UN refugee chief urges increased donor focus on employment initiatives, saying Jordan scheme offers new blueprint for supporting refugees.
AMMAN, Jordan – UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi on Monday praised Jordan’s efforts to boost employment among Syrian refugees, saying greater international support for such schemes was needed to lift millions of Syrians across the region out of poverty.
Of some 657,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, more than 80 per cent live below the poverty line on less than US$3 a day, mirroring the situation facing more than 5.5 million Syrian refugees across the region. After years of exile, families are slipping deeper into debt and struggling to meet their basic needs.
“I want to commend the government of Jordan for having facilitated schemes that allow Syrian refugees to have jobs,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told a news conference in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. “What I will say to donors is we need to invest more in these schemes.”
Grandi noted that Jordan has so far issued more than 88,000 work permits to Syrians, as part of a 2016 “compact” deal that also increased international aid to the country. The majority of permits were issued for the agriculture and construction sectors, with women accounting for around 5 per cent of the total.
Among them is Sawsan, a 39-year-old mother of six from rural Damascus, who works as a seamstress at the Jerash Garment Factory south of the capital Amman. She is one of 22 Syrian refugee women already working at the factory, along with two of her adult daughters, with a further 52 women from Za’atari camp set to start in March.
Sawsan told Grandi during a visit to the factory that it was her first ever job, and that she and her daughters’ combined income of 615 Jordanian dinars (US$867) a month had made huge difference to their lives.
“Now when my kids ask for something, I don’t have to say ‘no’ all the time. I’m trying to save money as well for my daughters to go to college,” she said. “I’m enjoying being the bread winner. I’m so proud of myself, and it has really built my confidence.”
“This is really a new way to support refugees, which does not make them dependent exclusively on handouts of food or cash.”
“This is really a new way to support refugees, which does not make them dependent exclusively on handouts of food or cash,” Grandi said. “It allows them to earn money, to have the dignity of having work, and to also build skills – especially for women – which will be very useful when they go home.”
On his third visit to Jordan as High Commissioner, he also met with refugees living inside a secure area of Azraq camp, located in the country’s remote northeastern desert.
Many of the roughly 8,000 individuals still living in the fenced-off area known as village five have been there since mid-2016, when they were among more than 21,000 Syrians transferred to the camp after spending months stranded at the border.
The High Commissioner acknowledged the government’s security concerns, which to date have seen some 13,000 cleared to join the general camp population, but said UNHCR was worried about the impact of such an extended period of confinement on those remaining.
Abu Bassam, 45, from Palmyra told Grandi that while they received food, medical treatment and education for their four children, they still felt singled out. “All of the services are available here, but when it comes to employment it is hard,” he said. “We cannot leave, so it is tough.”
Grandi described the decision by the authorities in recent days to move 265 people out of village five as positive, but said more should be done. “We want that screening to continue, and as I told the foreign minister yesterday, please let’s try to make it quicker.”
Finally, Grandi described the recent escalation of conflict inside Syria as extremely concerning “We are witnessing an extended failure of political action, an extended failure by states to help Syrians find a solution to this war,” he said.
“When you see the war becoming more and more complicated with more and more actors involved, then you get more worried. This internationalization of the Syrian war is what needs to be avoided, because it takes us further away from a solution,” he concluded.
SOURCE: UN REFUGEE AGENCY