AMMAN — Although Esam Abdullah (a pseudonym), a 35-year-old Syrian refugee, has a permit that allows him to work legally in Jordan, he will not benefit from the financial support extended by the Jordanian government under Defense Order No. 9 which is meant to help workers and businesses adversely affected by the precautionary measures implemented to contain COVID-19.
Most of the 300,000 working-age Syrian refugees in Jordan find themselves in the same situation as Abdullah, as even those who possess work permits are not registered with Jordan’s Social Security Corporation (SSC), a precondition to receiving governmental financial support.
As such, Abdulahh has no other option but to wait to return to work as a salesman at a clothing store to “provide for my family,” he told Syria Direct.
Defense Order No. 9
On April 16, three new financial programs were declared under Defense Order No. 9, translated literally as “Solidarity 1,” “Solidarity 2,” and “Supporter.” While the first two programs target only Jordanian workers, the third program covers non-Jordanians and is made up of three components.
The first part of “Supporter” includes “unemployed workers who have been enrolled in the SSC for no less than 36 months,” Musa Sbeihi, the SSC’s spokesperson, told Syria Direct.
“They can apply to receive 50% of their salary, for a minimum of 150 Jordanian dinars [$211] and a maximum of 350 JD [$492], for three months or three equal payments,” Sbeihi explained.
The second part is for either “Jordanians or non-Jordanians who are enrolled in the SSC and have credit in their savings account,” Sbeihi said, so “they can withdraw up to 60% of the account’s credit or 450 JD [$634] to be paid over three months or via three equal payments.”
The third part is for those “who have been enrolled in the SSC for a year and whose monthly salary does not exceed 500 JD [$704] at the time of their enrollment,” according to Sbeihi. Workers under this category can “get an advance equal to 5% of their total salary, up to a maximum of 450 JD [$634] to be paid over three months.”
Nonetheless, Ali Horani (a pseudonym), a Syrian refugee who works in one of Amman’s restaurants and is enrolled in the SSC for 18 months now, was not able to apply for the “Supporter” program. Upon applying for the program, he told Syria Direct, he had received a message saying that “information is not correct,” and “I don’t know why.”
To help Syrians access these aid programs, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), a partner organization with the UNHCR in Jordan, is providing support to Syrian workers who are facing problems in applying for government financial support, a member of ARDD told Syria Direct under the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media.
According to Sbeihi, the “Supporter” program covers 15,000 Syrian workers, which is equivalent to 10% of the 176,920 Syrians who have work permits, or less than 3% of all the working-age Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan.
The huge gap between the number of workers with work permits and those enrolled in the SSC in Jordan is due to an agreement between the Ministry of Labor and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The agreement allows Syrians to work in the construction sector without being registered with the SSC but instead be “insured against injury through insurance companies,” a source at the Jordan office of the ILO told Syria Direct. “Workers with these permits are working legally, but they’re not benefiting from the financial support that’s been announced,” he added.
Weak international response
As the Jordanian government seeks to coordinate its programs with local organizations to support Jordanian workers who “are barely covered,” according to the ARDD member, “the burden of propping up refugees, especially Syrians, has fallen on international organizations.”
He added that despite the fact that “Syrian daily workers are among who are suffering the most from the coronavirus—working precarious jobs in the informal sector at the risk of unemployment—international organizations have turned their support toward the most urgent sectors such as health and family protection.”
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, decreasing support for Syrian refugees constituted “one of the main challenges faced by international organizations,” according to the member of ARDD. Consequently, “organizations have begun to hire and train Syrians instead of providing them with direct financial support. However, with the spread of the coronavirus, such projects have stopped.”
According to UNHCR, Syrian refugees in Jordan are a particularly vulnerable population, with 79% of them living below the poverty line.
In response to the global pandemic, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) have disbursed financial and food aid ahead of time. Further, UNHCR has “requested to reconsider [the condition] of refugees who are not receiving aid and providing them with food coupons even temporarily during the coronavirus crisis,” the member of ARDD said.
Returning to Syria
The Syrian embassy in Jordan has announced that Syrians who want to return to Syria need to fill complete a form published on its Facebook page. While returnees have to pay for the cost of evacuation, according to the Embassy announcement, “the Syrian authorities will quarantine all returning citizens for 14 days with no charge.”
However, in addition to the fear of security prosecution after returning to Syria, the initiative comes at a time of deteriorating economic and living conditions in the country, which explains the low number of returnees to Syria. Since the reopening of the Jaber-Naseeb border crossing in August 2018, only 38,000 refugees have returned to Syria, while 656,213 refugees are still registered with UNHCR in Jordan.
Moreover, those who wish to return to Syria during the coronavirus lockdown fear that they will not be allowed to enter Jordan after the crisis ends. Salim Omran (a pseudonym), a refugee from the central province of Homs, said that “in these circumstances, refugees cannot get a travel permit from the Jordanian Ministry of Interior.” Thus, “unless there is a coordination between the [Syrian] embassy and the Jordanian government, they may be prevented from entering Jordan again.”
As such, Omran and a group of Syrian refugees contacted the Syrian embassy in Amman “expressing our desire to return to Syria for this period only, provided that we can return to Jordan,” he told Syria Direct. “But we have yet to receive an answer from the embassy.”
This means that Omran will stay in Jordan separated from his family who he sent to Syria last year. “However, staying here with the hope of returning to [regular] life and resuming my work is better than going to Syria without being able to return [to Jordan],” he said.
The report was originally published in Arabic and translated into English by Rohan Advani and Will Christou