Table of Contents

Although Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with the largest influxes of Syrian refugees, their legal frameworks for addressing the Syrian refugee population reveal a long-standing ambiguous approach. While both countries have hosted large numbers of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees at various periods of time, neither country has ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its accompanying 1967 protocol.1 The convention defined the refugee classification and identified the legal obligations of host countries toward refugees, including the guarantee of their rights to freedom of movement, protection, justice, and work. The protocol removed the geographic and temporal conditions limiting the convention’s applicability to individuals displaced during World War II and until 1951. A pillar of both documents is the principle of non-refoulement—the idea that refugees cannot be forcibly returned to an area where their freedoms are threatened and lives are endangered.

In contrast to the 1951 convention and its protocol, the governments of Lebanon and Jordan view fleeing populations as guests, not as refugees. Consequently, neither country is obligated to recognize the rights guaranteed by the convention, unless the rights are captured by other international treaties, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In turn, the refugees’ well-being is dependent solely on the largesse of the host countries and international agencies. This guest approach partly aims to prevent the integration of refugees and ensure their eventual return to their countries of origin.

Host Country Fears

While initially welcoming, Lebanon and Jordan have progressively adopted policies that reflect profound fears about the potential impact of a prolonged presence of Syrian refugees. This reticence has affected everything from residency and mobility to access to employment, education, and healthcare, though in varying degrees depending on the country.

Though the attitudes in Lebanon and Jordan have doubtless contributed to making the lives of refugees more difficult, they are reflective of both countries’ past experiences with refugees. Each country absorbed large numbers of Palestinian refugees after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, with no resolution ever being identified. Both countries then faced another wave of Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967. And more Palestinians came to Lebanon from Jordan following the armed conflict between the Jordanian armed forces and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1970–1971.

After the first wave of Syrian refugees in 2011, Jordanians, especially in the East Bank, were concerned about the impact on their country’s demographic makeup and identity, while the Lebanese were more concerned about the impact on Lebanon’s sects.2 East Bank Jordanians now fear they are fast becoming a minority in a country they once dominated. Lebanese fear that the presence of a large, mainly Sunni, Syrian population might undermine the delicate sectarian balance in the country and eventually transform it politically. The fact that the Palestinian refugee crisis was never resolved has only heightened Jordanian and Lebanese anxieties.

In addition to these concerns, both countries worry about security, as extremist groups have for a time gained the upper hand in several countries of the region, above all Syria. Syrian refugee communities are unfairly regarded as ideal targets of recruitment by such groups, especially following terrorist attacks in both countries. While security imperatives, like demographic or sectarian fears, do not justify the poor treatment of refugees, they do partly explain the countries’ changing attitudes toward the presence of a massive number of Syrians. However, those who have paid the highest price for this situation are the refugees themselves, who, despite being victims, have become objects of blame and suspicion.

Ultimately, the quality of life for refugees within Lebanese and Jordanian societies varies significantly as a result of state policies, political and identity-based grievances, and local culture and socioeconomic status. In Jordan, the central government has established a clear legal framework and implementation mechanisms to address the refugee crisis. In time, this framework has gradually become a significant liability for refugees, as policies have shifted toward being more restrictive. In contrast, the Lebanese government, mired in political deadlock when the conflict first started, has granted local institutions far greater latitude in managing the influx of refugees and has established more arbitrary implementation mechanisms. While this approach has opened up more space for informal employment and housing, it has made refugees more vulnerable to exploitation, leading to many of the same challenges faced in Jordan. In both countries, the length of the Syrian crisis has had an increasingly damaging impact on relations between Syrian refugees and host communities, raising questions about the long-term treatment of refugees and their well-being.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Lebanon is now home to the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.3 According to the UNHCR, 995,512 registered Syrian refugees reside in Lebanon.4 The Lebanese government claims that another 500,000 refugees are in the country informally, increasing the estimated total to around 1.5 million.5 On May 6, 2015, the UNHCR suspended the new registration of refugees at the Lebanese government’s request.6

Women and youths (below age eighteen) constitute the largest proportion of the total refugee population at 53 percent and 55 percent, respectively. Close to 19 percent of refugee households are headed by females.7 The population is unevenly distributed among Lebanon’s geographic regions, with a larger concentration in coastal areas and large cities, especially Beirut. Young men, in particular, are concentrated in coastal governorates where there are more job opportunities. Beirut is the only governorate where the percentage of males (52 percent) exceeds that of females.8

Refugees in Lebanon face considerable economic, legal, and social difficulties. Carnegie’s focus group participants identified high living expenses and access to legal documentation as their most significant challenges, followed by access to jobs and education and discrimination. Ammar, currently residing in Lebanon, best captured the predicament refugees face when he said:

I am tired of Lebanon but I cannot leave Lebanon. I have been illegal for the past two years. If I want to go to Syria they will ask me for $400 at the border. . . . My wife is also illegal, so I would need to pay another $400 for her. My daughter was born [in Lebanon], her sin is that she was born here and I could not register her. For all of us to have legal residency, I would need to pay another $400, which means I would have to pay $1,200 for all of us. We are not getting any aid. My salary is LL500,000 [$333] per month and I have to pay LL250,000 [$166] in rent every month and I have children. It is winter . . . so if I just want to get fuel for heating, nothing is left. So how are we supposed to survive? This means they’re pressuring us. They tell us you have one of two choices: You either become terrorists or thieves . . . and these are two things we do not want. We want a solution that will give us back our dignity—no more, no less.”9

The difficult situation Syrian refugees face has not manifested by chance. The Lebanese approach is largely being shaped by four factors: the enormity of the refugee burden for a small country; demographic fears; previous experiences with refugees; and domestic political dysfunction that has contributed to an incoherent refugee policy. Unsurprisingly, relations between Lebanese and Syrians are growing increasingly strained, making an already challenging situation far worse.

Lacking a unified plan, the Lebanese government has instigated a series of policies over the past five years to deal with the continued flow of large numbers of Syrian refugees. These policies—affecting refugees’ residency status, employment, housing, and access to services such as health and education—have primarily been dictated by security concerns, political deadlock, and structural challenges of providing for a sudden and expanding influx of vulnerable population groups. Although Lebanon has provided a safe haven for refugees, these policies have also contributed to their increasing vulnerability and marginalization.

Moreover, because of the political deadlock, local authorities have been entrusted to monitor and regulate refugees. For example, municipalities were tasked early on with carrying out refugee counts and managing the sudden population influx into their areas. Yet many have since expanded their purview. As of 2017, at least 142 municipalities have imposed evening curfews on Syrian refugees, restricting their movements.10

A Policy of Deterrence: Residency Requirements

Lebanon’s open border policy with Syria from 2011 to the end of 2014 reflected its strong desire to aid Syrians in need of refuge. However, as the conflict escalated and expanded during that period—overstretching Lebanon’s capacity to support a massive Syrian refugee population—the government gradually adopted a policy of deterrence that sought to limit the number of refugees entering the country.

In 2013, following a notable uptick in the flow of refugees, the government began to enact restrictive measures, initially focusing on Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria and then on all Syrians except those from border areas.11 Since Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 UN convention, officers of the General Directorate of General Security (GS) were also given considerable latitude to deny the entry of refugees, violating the principle of non-refoulement.12

In December 2014, the GS introduced new regulations to restrict the entry of Syrians.13 Accordingly, Syrians applying for, or renewing, residency permits were asked to pay an annual $200 fee, present a valid passport or identification card, and provide a document to the GS that is signed by a Lebanese national to affirm that he or she is sponsoring a Syrian citizen or household.14

This had an immediate impact on refugee registration. Between January and March 2015, UNHCR reported an 80 percent decrease in registration, and by the end of July 2015, the percentage of Syrian households without a valid residency permit increased from 9 percent to over 61 percent.15 Of course, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ request to UNHCR in May 2015 to suspend the registration of new refugees continued this trend. By 2017, 74 percent of Syrian refugees ages fifteen years old and above did not have a valid residency.16

Not surprisingly, given the financial costs, the majority of Carnegie focus group participants have no legal residency papers. And because of this, they avoid traveling between geographical areas for fear of being arrested at army or internal security forces checkpoints. They are also vulnerable to exploitation by Lebanese sponsors, who are at liberty to charge large sums for sponsoring a Syrian. According to one young refugee, Karim, “It has become a commercial enterprise. Either I give money, or they benefit from me in other ways.”17

A large number of male focus group participants reported being arrested for lacking legal documentation. They also expressed high levels of anxiety that neighbors or prospective employers might denounce them to the Lebanese authorities. As a result, many are reluctant to report abuse to the authorities, believing it is useless and that justice would not be served.

Employment Restrictions

Syrian refugees are experiencing even greater restrictions on employment opportunities. The Agreement for Economic and Social Cooperation and Coordination Between the Lebanese Republic and the Syrian Arab Republic, signed in 1993, affirmed the freedom of movement for Lebanese and Syrians between their two countries, as well as their citizens’ right to work in Lebanon or Syria according to each country’s labor code.18 The agreement enabled large numbers of Syrians to work in sectors in which Lebanese either did not work or refused to accept the same low wages provided to Syrians.

However, in December 2014, the Ministry of Labor issued a circular that limits the sectors open to Syrians to construction, agriculture, and cleaning.19 It then issued subsequent decrees that require employers to (1) submit proof that they first tried to find Lebanese workers for the same jobs and (2) maintain a less than 10:1 ratio of Lebanese workers to foreign workers.20 In turn, the decrees require Syrians seeking work to have a Lebanese sponsor, often an employer, who has signed a “pledge of responsibility.” Further, UNHCR-registered refugees seeking to renew their registration are ineligible to work in Lebanon on the grounds that they are receiving humanitarian assistance.21 A 2014 International Labor Organization survey indicated that 92 percent of Syrian refugee workers in Lebanon had no legal contracts, while 56 percent were employed on a daily or weekly basis.22

Women, in particular, are being greatly affected. Even though female-headed households constitute 19 percent of all refugee households in Lebanon, the percentage of employed females, estimated at 7.6 percent, is much lower than that among males, estimated at 56 percent—indicating that females are more vulnerable than males.23 Indeed, around 56 percent of female-headed households did not have any member working in the month prior to the survey, compared with 32 percent of male-headed households.

Not surprisingly, around 76 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, estimated at $3.84 a day in Lebanon.24 Syrian male refugees earned an average monthly income of $206 as of 2017,25 while female refugees earned only $159. Both incomes are significantly less than the Lebanese minimum wage of $450.26 Abdo, from Daraa, said, “Perhaps death is better for us, as in every sense of the word it is better than this life. Imagine a child who has no milk to drink. I don’t have diapers to change her. . . . If I buy for her, I deny income to the rest of the household. I am the only one working in a household of eight people.”27

Abdo, from Daraa, said, “Perhaps death is better for us, as in every sense of the word it is better than this life. Imagine a child who has no milk to drink. I don’t have diapers to change her. . . . If I buy for her, I deny income to the rest of the household. I am the only one working in a household of eight people.”

Highly qualified Syrians face even more obstacles to finding jobs than low-skilled Syrians, given their difficulty obtaining work permits. This has forced many to work informally, exposing them to exploitation. Most focus group participants reported that they suffer from workplace abuse, including disrespect by employers; lower or no pay for work rendered; and arbitrary termination of employment.28

Poor-Quality Housing

Housing options for refugees in Lebanon are limited and often do not meet the minimum standards of security of tenure, habitability, and affordability.29 The Lebanese government has refused to establish refugee camps for Syrians, worried that this may replicate the Palestinian experience and that Syrians may settle permanently in the country.30 Consequently, according to a 2017 World Food Program study, 73 percent of refugee households reside in residential buildings; 17 percent reside in informal tented settlements; and 9 percent reside in nonresidential structures, such as garages, workshops, and construction sites.31 Rental prices are a major burden for refugees. The average monthly fee, whether for a rented apartment or a makeshift tent, is estimated to be $183, which is close to the $206 monthly income for male refugees and significantly more than the $159 monthly income for female refugees.32

Notably, more than half of refugees live in overcrowded and/or rundown dwellings.33 And while 80 percent of these refugees report paying rent, only 6 percent have valid rental agreements; the rest remain vulnerable to sudden eviction with no legal recourse.34 Indeed, refugees are prone to evictions that take place without court orders or due process.35 Meanwhile, between 2012 and 2013, increased demand for rental units in poor areas drove up prices by a reported 44 percent.36 This may be contributing to the rising resentment toward refugees in local communities.37

Inadequate Access to Services

The Lebanese government has made a concerted effort to improve access to education and health services, but significant challenges remain. Focus group participants complained about the poor quality of education, the bad treatment of Syrian children by teachers, and the limited number of hours devoted to education. They also expressed concern about the exorbitant costs of healthcare and their limited access to hospitals.

In 2014, with the support of international actors, the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education initiated the Reaching All Children With Education strategy to improve the national educational system, enhance teaching standards, and support refugee student enrollment. To achieve the latter, the ministry expanded the number of schools offering second shifts to educate more children.38 Consequently, by 2017, 70 percent of refugee children ages six to fourteen were attending school.39 This is a remarkable achievement; however, problems surrounding the quality of education and the school environment continue. Public schools have had to operate beyond their capacity to accommodate refugee children.40 The English or French curricula (unfamiliar to Syrian students), bullying, and discrimination have contributed to high dropout rates. “The first thing my daughter does when she comes home after school is cry because her schoolmates keep telling her that she is Syrian, and she has been in that school for four years,” said Fatima, a female refugee from Aleppo.41

“The first thing my daughter does when she comes home after school is cry because her schoolmates keep telling her that she is Syrian, and she has been in that school for four years,” said Fatima, a female refugee from Aleppo.

Further, the proportion of children above age twelve attending school is very low; only 13 percent of children between the ages of twelve and fourteen are in school and only 4 percent of youth between the ages of fifteen and eighteen attend secondary school, which is partially explained by the high incidence of over-age primary school attendance.42 Meanwhile, most refugees of high school and university age have discontinued their studies due to high tuition fees, the bureaucratic difficulties of entering Lebanese universities, or the challenges in getting accreditation for degrees obtained while at school or university in Syria. As a result, most young focus group participants reported taking low-skilled jobs upon their arrival in Lebanon. Children resorting to nonformal education face an additional burden given the lack of accreditation.

With respect to healthcare, many refugees arrived in Lebanon with considerable injuries, psychological trauma, and/or serious chronic conditions requiring sustained care. And compounding these health challenges are the dire living conditions of many refugees. As of 2015, one-third of displaced Syrians lacked access to safe water and 12 percent lacked access to bathrooms, leading to periodic outbreaks of communicable diseases such as dysentery.43

Despite the substantial need, refugees have limited access to healthcare. Although public hospitals are legally obliged to serve the vulnerable, regardless of whether they have medical insurance, Syrian patients are required to pay 25 percent of the costs of individual healthcare. The Ministry of Social Affairs, in partnership with UNHCR and several nongovernmental organizations, offers refugees access to primary and tertiary healthcare through primary healthcare centers and hospital referrals. Although vaccines are free, other consultations have an associated fee. UNHCR subsidizes 75 percent of secondary and tertiary healthcare, leaving refugees to cover the remaining 25 percent, including medication. The inability of many refugees to pay even this amount has placed a major burden on public hospitals.44 Some hospitals are now refusing to admit Syrian patients.45 More broadly, the needs of refugees have had a significant impact on the Lebanese healthcare system, due to the increase in demand on hospitals. This has negatively affected the quality of service provided to Lebanese nationals, fueling resentment toward refugees.46

The fact that subsidized care does not include nonlife threatening injuries and long-term diseases or chronic conditions, such as cancer and kidney failure, is forcing refugees to make difficult choices. Many refugees return to Syria for treatment, but others decide it is too dangerous and languish without medical care.

Rising Tensions

Relations between refugees and some Lebanese communities have significantly deteriorated in recent years. This is largely because of the toxic public discourse spearheaded by politicians and the belief of many Lebanese that the presence of Syrian refugees has dramatically worsened their own security and access to quality services. In a 2015 survey of Lebanese and Syrians, Lebanese participants reported a much higher sense of insecurity than Syrian refugees living in the same neighborhoods. However, few of these Lebanese participants reported being victims of assault and most of these incidents were carried out by other Lebanese.47 Further, according to Syrian participants, Lebanese frequently claim that Syrians are stealing their jobs. But, as of 2017, over 50 percent of Syrians were working in construction and agriculture—in other words, jobs mainly filled by Syrians prior to the Syrian conflict.48

Due to such perceptions, Lebanese citizens have attacked refugees in the wake of security incidents, such as bombings; and, in some instances, local authorities have collectively punished Syrians following lone crimes.49 For example, in September 2017, after a Syrian man raped and murdered a young woman, the Miziara municipal council in northern Lebanon expelled Syrians from the town, except for those with valid residency and work permits. 50 Such reactions are more widespread than many people may realize, with over half of Carnegie’s focus group participants reporting incidents of harassment and physical abuse.

The inflammatory and sometimes xenophobic rhetoric of some Lebanese political leaders has exacerbated tensions and increased the likelihood of violence.51 But, in a World Food Program study, refugees reported that it is often their neighbors, not the authorities, who are behind harassment and abuse incidents.52 Carnegie’s focus group participants similarly reported that most discrimination has involved random complaints by neighbors, bullying in the streets, and racist comments. Refugees from Deir Ezzor and Raqqa complained of more acute discrimination because they come from eastern Syria.

The conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon are likely to worsen as the conflict continues, especially without a unified, clear regulatory framework. Lebanon’s ad hoc approach has placed local communities at the front lines of the refugee crisis, leaving refugees vulnerable to exploitation and limiting their access to basic needs.

Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Like Lebanon, Jordan has sustained an influx of Syrian refugees since 2011 and its policy has become more restrictive over time. Yet Jordan’s response—while also shaped by mounting security concerns, demographic fears, and structural challenges—has been far more organized. Unhindered by political deadlock, the response reflected a clear strategy early on. Nevertheless, Jordan’s policies are having a significant impact on refugees’ freedom of movement, residency, employment, housing, education, and healthcare. In 2016, following an attack claimed by the Islamic State, Jordan closed all remaining open border crossings with Syria and continues to forcibly expel some refugees.53

The UNHCR estimates that 659,000 registered Syrian refugees currently reside in Jordan,54 and in 2017, the government estimated there to be an additional 643,000 unregistered refugees living in the country.55 These refugees may not have planned to stay long, or perhaps they did not know how to register or could not access registration centers easily. Or they may have feared expulsion and eventual persecution by the Syrian regime.56 The total refugee population is relatively gender balanced. Youths under age eighteen constitute close to half of the refugee population, and about 30 percent of households are headed by females.57

Like their compatriots in Lebanon, Syrian refugees in Jordan face considerable economic and social challenges and, in particular, limited access to shelter, education, healthcare, and employment. Even before the refugee crisis, Jordan was experiencing major developmental challenges, including water shortages and stagnating economic growth (with an estimated average of 2.6 percent annually since 2011).58 Carnegie’s focus group participants identified the high cost of living as their most significant challenge, exacerbated by the lack of employment opportunities. “The main issue is meeting our expenses, particularly the rent at the start of each month. Financial problems arise in Jordan due to the high cost of living,” said Khaled, from Daraa.59

“The main issue is meeting our expenses, particularly the rent at the start of each month. Financial problems arise in Jordan due to the high cost of living,” said Khaled, from Daraa.

A Policy of Deterrence: Residency Requirements

As in Lebanon, Jordan’s open border policy from 2011–2014 demonstrated its commitment to providing Syrian refugees a safe haven. But during that time, security concerns led to the gradual closing of border crossings and more limited restrictions on the movement of Syrian refugees. The Jaber border crossing was closed in 2015 after militants took over the crossing from the Syrian side.60 A suicide attack against the Rukban army post in June 2016, reportedly carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, led to the shutting down of the Rukban and Hadalat border crossings.61 None has been reopened since that time, except in rare instances to refugees.

Beginning in 2012, Syrian refugees entering Jordan through official border checkpoints were transferred to formal refugee camps, where they could register with the UNHCR and receive asylum seeker certificates. However, four groups of persons were regularly denied entry, violating the principle of non-refoulement: Palestinian and Iraqi refugees residing in Syria, unmarried men of fighting age, and persons without legal documents.62 These restrictions forced many refugees to enter the country illegally, often through human trafficking networks, placing them at great risk of exploitation and possible abuse.63

Meanwhile, refugees residing in the camps could only leave them if they were “bailed out” by a guarantor, specifically a Jordanian relative age thirty-five or older.64 However, implementation of the bail-out process was initially quite relaxed; refugees leaving the camps without a Jordanian relative were still issued a Ministry of Interior service card that gave them access to various public services, including healthcare and education. It was not until 2015 that Jordanian authorities began to rigorously enforce the bail-out process, before canceling it altogether. In its place, the government initiated an “urban verification exercise,” which required Syrian refugees to re-register and obtain new biometric Ministry of Interior service cards.65

Restrictions on who could obtain the new service cards left many out in the cold. Refugees who did not have asylum seeker certificates, or who had left the camps without a bail-out, were denied registration. Some could not afford the high costs involved. Further, many refugees found it difficult to obtain the new cards; they were required to have valid identity documents, a stamped lease agreement or a UNHCR-approved “residency statement,” a health certificate, and a copy of their landlord’s identity documents.66 Upon entering Jordan, authorities had confiscated some refugees’ identity documents, such as passports, marriage certificates, and “family books” (containing a list of children, a marriage certificate, and parents’ birth certificates).67

As a result, by August 2016, around one-third of UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees living outside camps lacked a new service card.68 One immediate repercussion was that couples without marriage certificates were unable to register their children at birth, leaving thousands of newborns stateless and without valid documentation.69 Another consequence was that many refugees were unable to access public healthcare or enroll themselves or their children in formal education.

Employment Restrictions

According to Jordan’s 1952 constitution and the government’s memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR in 1998, foreigners, including refugees, must have a work permit to legally access jobs.70 However, obtaining a work permit is conditional on holding a valid Ministry of Interior service card, so by 2015, the unemployment rate among Syrian refugees had reached 61 percent.71 Around 10 percent of employed Syrian refugees had work permits, while the rest worked informally.72

Many Syrians take on construction or other short-term jobs. And as of 2015, the average monthly income of a Syrian refugee ($296) was less than the minimum wage in Jordan ($310).73 Given refugees’ limited access to work opportunities, around 20 percent have reported that cash assistance from nongovernmental organizations is their main source of income.74 Not surprisingly, around 82 percent of Syrian refugee households live below Jordan’s poverty line.75

In 2016, as part of a European Union (EU)–Jordan compact, the EU increased the Jordanian government’s access to grants and concessional loans and facilitated its exports to the European market, while the Jordanian government took substantial steps to increase job opportunities for Syrian refugees and facilitate their entry into the formal labor market.76 These steps included waiving work permit fees, proof of social security from employers, and the medical examination required for a work permit. Two objectives were to reduce the high costs imposed on refugees and increase their access to some labor sectors. At the time, the cost of a work permit equaled one to two months of minimum wages, depending on the sector.77 This amounts to a significant savings, but refugees’ participation in the labor force did not rise as much as expected;78 other obstacles to obtaining a work permit, such as hefty social security contributions, continued to be a hindrance.79

Poor-Quality Housing

Unlike Lebanon, Jordan opted to construct refugee camps for Syrians. Yet of the total registered refugees, only 21 percent live in camps80—with the majority living in the Zaatari, Azraq, and Emirates Jordan, or Zarqa camps.81 The Zaatari camp, home to approximately 80,000 people, is often dubbed Jordan’s fourth largest city and is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.82 Around 20 percent of Syrians shelter in chicken houses, garages, and tents;83 and 1 percent live in informal tented settlements.84

Overcrowding is a major issue, with half of Syrian refugee families reporting that they have shared housing with at least one other family so as to afford rent.85 According to a 2014 UNHCR survey, Syrian refugees were paying an average monthly rent of $206, or two-thirds of what they made in monthly income.86 In addition, one-third of households lacked a rental agreement.87 As a result, 40 percent of those surveyed had faced eviction.88

The problem has been exacerbated by rising rental prices. In northern Jordan, rental prices evidently doubled or even quadrupled following the Syrian refugee influx.89 As in Lebanon, these increases have further aggravated tensions between Syrians and Jordanians—already running high due to water shortages and waste accumulation. Since 2011, water supply has dramatically decreased, with close to 40 percent of Jordanian households and 29 percent of Syrian households reporting shortages in 2015.90

Inadequate Access to Services

Syrians have comparatively more access to education and healthcare than to shelter. Syrian refugee children can attend public schools for free, but only if they hold a valid asylum seeker certificate and a Ministry of Interior service card. Further, the quality of education varies. In 2013, the Ministry of Education allowed some schools to do a second shift to accommodate more Syrian refugee children, but education provided during the afternoon shift is normally of a lower standard. Teachers doing the afternoon shift generally have less training, which is also of lower quality.91 Syrian refugee children who lack the required documentation to enter public schools can access primary and secondary education through informal programs, usually run by nongovernmental organizations or religious-based charities. However, the certificates students receive are not recognized for accreditation, so this prohibits them from enrolling in formal public schools in the future as well.

Close to 62 percent of the over 330,000 Syrian refugee children registered in Jordan are enrolled in formal education.92 However, as in Lebanon, school dropout rates are high; in 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that around 68 percent of those out of school had been previously enrolled in school.93 Nonattendance and high dropout rates are generally attributed to the high cost of education, bullying, discrimination, school violence, distance to schools, and the need to fulfill household chores.94 Notably, as refugee children grow older, their school attendance tends to decline, partly because they see no purpose in getting an education when they desperately need to support their families economically.95

With regards to higher education, only 8 percent of refugees ages eighteen to twenty-four are enrolled in universities.96 Barriers to university attendance include difficulties with passing the official secondary school exam, the high cost of a university education, English-language requirements, and the possession of accredited pre-tertiary, or high school, certificates from formal education programs. Without a university degree, Syrian refugees face additional obstacles in competing for skilled jobs. This leaves them even more dependent on aid and with less money to spend on expensive healthcare and housing.

Since 2011, the Jordanian government has made considerable efforts to improve access to healthcare, but Syrian refugees still face significant challenges. One reason is that, in 2014, Jordan revised its healthcare policy. Refugees who possess Ministry of Interior cards now have to pay for some services—formerly free at the Ministry of Health facilities—and at prices commensurate with those paid by uninsured Jordanians. And those refugees without cards are now unable to access public healthcare and, therefore, must pay the same higher rates as foreigners (at nongovernmental or private facilities), placing them at even greater risk.97 Moreover, while the Ministry of Interior card enables refugees to access public healthcare, the access is restricted to the district where the card was issued.98" name="_ednref98" title=""> This policy, coupled with the high cost of medical services, has hindered access; for example, in 2016, 37 percent of households with members suffering from chronic diseases could not access medical services, primarily because of expense.99 Samer, from Daraa, said, “All Syrian refugees face major hardship in access to medication. Even treatment for a minor concussion is unaffordable.”100

Samer, from Daraa, said, “All Syrian refugees face major hardship in access to medication. Even treatment for a minor concussion is unaffordable.”

Rising Tensions

As in Lebanon, two major factors have strained the relationship between Syrian refugees and host communities: the worsening structural challenges and the negative perceptions about the impact of refugees on local living standards. For many Jordanians, the increased pressure on service provision has significantly lowered the quality of, and access to, education, healthcare, and water, as well as intensified competition over low-skill employment opportunities.

According to a recent survey, although most Jordanians living in areas hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees view their relationship as positive, many believe that the refugee influx has had a major negative impact on their lives.101 Jordanians listed deteriorating economic conditions, increased demand for limited job opportunities, soaring housing prices, and overstretched healthcare services as major problems associated with the refugee crisis.102 Both Syrian and Jordanian respondents stated that rising housing prices are a source of discontent and have exacerbated relations between host and refugee communities.103 They also agreed that employment is a source of tension. The unemployment rate among Jordanians has increased substantially since 2011, rising from 14.5 percent to 18.5 percent in 2017.104 Abu Bakr, from Daraa, said, “The issue facing Syrians in all countries of refuge is that they are perceived as bad people by the locals, who accuse Syrians of taking their jobs.”105

Abu Bakr, from Daraa, said, “The issue facing Syrians in all countries of refuge is that they are perceived as bad people by the locals, who accuse Syrians of taking their jobs.”

Tensions between the two communities have sometimes led to violence and the harassment of refugees. In Irbid, half of the refugees interviewed for a study in 2015 said they had suffered from physical aggression, while most reported experiencing verbal abuse.106 And during a Carnegie focus group, Samira, from Aleppo, recalled an incident where a passerby spat on an acquaintance who was a refugee, after accusing her of stealing the locals’ wealth and land.107 However, interestingly, an overwhelming majority of focus group participants denied being the victims of a physical or verbal attack.


1 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2010),

2 Maha Yahya, “Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder.”

3 Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, “Lebanon: Syria Crisis,” European Commission, January 18, 2018, 1–3,

4 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Syria Regional Refugee Response—Lebanon,” UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response, January 31, 2018,

5 Tom Perry, “Lebanon Near ‘Breaking Point’ Over Syrian Refugee Crisis: PM Hariri,” Reuters, March 31, 2017,

6 Amnesty International, “Pushed to the Edge: Syrian Refugees Face Increased Restrictions in Lebanon,” Amnesty International, June 15, 2015, 16,

7 World Food Program, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and UNHCR, VASyR 2017: Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (Damascus: World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, 2016),

8 Ibid., 9.

9 Focus group discussion no. 4 in Tripoli, Lebanon, February 8, 2017.

10 Lama Mourad, “Inaction as Policy-Making: Understanding Lebanon’s Early Response to the Refugee Influx,” POMEPS Studies no. 25 (March 2017): 49–55.

11 Amnesty International, “Denied Refuge: Palestinians From Syria Seeking Safety in Lebanon,” Amnesty International, July 1, 2014,

12 Ibid.,13. Also seeMaha Yahya, “Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder”; and Hassan Lakkis, “Lebanon Cabinet Votes to Stop Accepting Syrian Refugees,” Daily Star,October 23, 2014,

13 Maja Janmyr, “Precarity in Exile,” 58–78.

14 Amnesty International, “Pushed to the Edge,” 13–14.

15 Maja Janmyr, “Precarity in Exile,” 58–78.

16 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017.

17 Focus group discussion no. 9 in Nabatiyyeh, Lebanon, February 23, 2017.

18 Center for Research and Studies in Legal Knowledge, “Itifaq al-ta‘awon wa al-tansiq al-iqtisadi wa al-ijtima‘i bayn al-jumhuriyya al-lubnaniyya wa al-jumhuriyya al-‘arabiyya al-suriyya” [Agreement on economic and social cooperation and coordination between the Lebanese Republic and the Syrian Arab Republic], Center for Research and Studies in Legal Knowledge, Lebanese University, September 16, 1993,

19 Francesca Battistin and Virginia Leape, Towards the Right to Work: A Guidebook for Designing Innovative Public Employment Programmes—Background and Experiences From the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon (Beirut: International Labor Organization, 2017): 17–18.

20 Ibid., 18.

21 Lea Bou Khater, “Labour Policy and Practice,” The Peace Building in Lebanon no. 16 (August 2017): 4.

22 International Labor Organization, Assessment of the Impact of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Their Employment Profile (Beirut: International Labor Organization, Regional Office for Arab States, 2013), 9.

23 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017,66.

24 Ibid.,60.

25 Ibid., 57–59.

26 Yassmine Alieh, “Salary Scale Ratified by Parliament,” by Lebanon Opportunities, July 19, 2017,

27 Focus group discussion no. 8 in Saadnayel in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, February 19, 2017.

28 Such forms of abuse were also reported in studies undertaken by other international organizations, including Oxfam, which highlighted the particularly vulnerable situation of refugees from Syria. See Oxfam, “Still Looking for Safety: Voices of Refugees From Syria on Solutions for the Present and Future,” Oxfam International, June 20, 2017, 5–12,

29 OHCHR and UNHABITAT, “The Right to Adequate Housing,” Fact Sheet no. 21, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009, 4,

30 Lewis Turner, “Explaining the (Non-)Encampment of Syrian Refugees: Security, Class and the Labour Market in Lebanon and Jordan,” Mediterranean Politics 20, no. 3 (September 2015): 386–404.

31 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017,22.

32 Ibid., 26.

33 Ibid., 22. Overcrowding is defined as less than 4.5 square meters per person—the minimum humanitarian standard.

34 Ibid., 28. In 2017, 32 percent of refugees reported that they were evicted by the owner of their residence, while another 20 percent indicated that rental expense triggered their departure from their residence.

35 Union of Relief & Development Associations, “URDA Shelter Program: Providing Decent Housing for Over 20,000 Syrian Refugees,” Union of Relief & Development Associations, March 15, 2017,; Venetia Rainey, “Lebanon: No Formal Refugee Camps for Syrians,” Al Jazeera, March 11, 2015,; and UNHABITAT and UNHCR, Housing, Land, and Property Rights in Lebanon: Implications of the Syrian Refugee Crisis (Beirut: UNHABITAT and UNHCR, 2014).

36 Roger Zetter, et al., The Syrian Displacement Crisis and a Regional Development and Protection Programme: Mapping and Meta-Analysis of Existing Studies of Costs, Impacts and Protection (Copenhagen: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and Tana, 2014), 19.

37 Ibid., 19.

38 Human Rights Watch, “Growing Up Without an Education: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch, July 19, 2016,

39 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017,32.

40 Hana Addam El-Ghali, Roula Berjaoui, and Jennifer DeKnight, Higher Education and Syrian Refugee Students: The Case of Lebanon—Policies, Practices, and Perspectives (Beirut: UNESCO, 2017), 29–32.

41 Focus group discussion no. 10 in Nabatiyyeh, Lebanon, February 23, 2017.

42 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017; and Hana Addam El-Ghali, Roula Berjaoui, and Jennifer DeKnight, Higher Education and Syrian Refugee Students, 32.

43 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNHCR, Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2015–16: Lebanon (Amman: UNDP and UNHCR, 2015),; and UNICEF, Joint Nutrition Assessment Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (Beirut: UNICEF, 2014), 90,

44 APIS Health Consulting Group, Syrian Refugees Crisis Impact on Lebanese Public Hospitals—Financial Impact Analysis: Generated Problems and Possible Solutions (Beirut: APIS Health Consulting Group Report, 2016), 1.

45 Lebanon Support, “Access to Healthcare for Syrian Refugees: The Impact of Fragment Service Provision on Syrians’ Daily Lives,” Lebanon Support, November 2016, 10,

46 Dana Sleiman and Dalia Atallah, “With Syria Refugee Crisis, Lebanese Health Services Improve,” UNHCR, September 6, 2016,; and APIS Health Consulting Group, Syrian Refugees Crisis Impact on Lebanese Public Hospitals, 10.

47 Carole Alsharabati and Jihad Nammour, “Survey on Perceptions of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” Université Saint Joseph, August 2015, 33–34.

48 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017.

49 John Davison, “Syrians in Lebanon Hit by Arrests, Curfews and Hostility After Bombing,” Reuters, July 25, 2016,; Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Rising Violence Targets Syrian Refugees,” Human Rights Watch, September 30, 2014,; and “Woman’s Murder Prompts Mass Eviction of Syrians From Lebanese Town,”Reuters, October 5, 2017,

50 “Woman’s Murder Prompts Mass Eviction of Syrians From Lebanese Town,”Reuters.

51 Francis Pia and Khaled Hanan, “Aoun Warns of ‘Conspiracy’ to Settle Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” Daily Star, September 15, 2015,; and Richard Hall, “After Trump’s Ban, Lebanon Renews Calls to Send Back Syrian Refugees,” Public Radio International, February 6, 2017,

52 World Food Program, UNICEF, and UNHCR, VASyR 2017, 15.

53 Amnesty International, “Syria-Jordan Border: 75,000 Refugees Trapped in Desert No Man’s Land in Dire Conditions,” Amnesty International, September 15, 2016,

54 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Syrian Regional Refugee Response—Jordan,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, March 9, 2018,

55 Mohammad Ghazal, “Jordan Hosts 657,000 Registered Syrian Refugees,” Jordan Times, March 21, 2017,

56 Sean Healy and Sandrine Tiller, “Out of the Spotlight and Hard to Reach: Syrian Refugees in Jordan’s Cities,” Humanitarian Practice Network, no. 59 (November 2013): 22–25.

57 UNHCR, “Syrian Regional Refugee Response—Jordan,” UNHCR, March 13, 2018,; and CARE Jordan, “7 Years Into Exiles: How Urban Syrian Refugees, Vulnerable Jordanians and Other Refugees in Jordan Are Being Impacted by the Syria Crisis,” CARE International, June 20, 2017,

58 World Bank, “Jordan,” World Bank, 2018,

59 Focus group discussion no. 31 in Amman, Jordan, August 10, 2017.

60 Aron Lund, “What Jordan’s Reopened Border Will Mean for Syria,” Syria Deeply, September 11, 2017,

61 Amnesty International, “Syria-Jordan Border.”

62 Bill Frelick, “Blocking Syrian Refugees Isn’t the Way,” Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2013,

63 Norwegian Refugee Council and International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School (IHCR), “Securing Status: Syrian Refugees and the Documentation of Legal Status, Identity, and Family Relationships in Jordan,” Norwegian Refugee Council, November 20, 2016,

64 Human Rights Watch,“We’re Afraid for Their Future: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan,” Human Rights Watch, August 16, 2016, 13,

65 Ibid., 34. 

67 Norwegian Refugee Council and IHCR, “Securing Status,” 10.

68 Human Rights Watch, “We’re Afraid for Their Future,” 35.

69 Norwegian Refugee Council and IHCR, “Securing Status,” 4.

70 Human Rights Watch, “We’re Afraid for Their Future”; and Norwegian Refugee Council and IHCR, “Securing Status.” 

71 U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2009—Jordan (Arlington, VA: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, 2009),,,USCRI,,JOR,,4a40d2aac,0.html.

72 Lorenza Errighi and Jörn Griesse, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Labour Market Implications in Jordan and Lebanon,”European Commission, Discussion Paper no. 29, 2016.

73 International Labor Organization, Work Permits for Syrian Refugees in Jordan (Beirut: International Labor Organization Regional Office for Arab States, 2015); and Norwegian Refugee Council, “Drivers of Despair: Refugee Protection Failures in Jordan and Lebanon,” Norwegian Refugee Council, January 2016,

73 CARE Jordan, “Syrian Refugees Outside Jordan’s Camps: Survey Results in Brief,” CARE International, June 2015,; and Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Communiqué from the Ministry of Labor, addressed to the Jordanian Chamber of Commerce, February 13, 2017,

74 Danish Refugee Council and UNHCR, “Understanding Alternatives to Cash Assistance,” Danish Refugee Council and UNCHR, September 2017,

75 CARE Jordan, “7 Years Into Exiles.”

76 International Labor Organization, “Work Permits and Employment of Syrian Refugees in Jordan.”

77 Ibid.

78 Bassem Nemeh, “Jordan’s Burden,” Diwan (blog), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 21, 2017,

79 International Labor Organization, “Results of Focus Group Discussions on Work Permits With Syrian Refugees and Employers in the Agriculture, Construction, and Retail Sectors in Jordan,”International Labor Organization Regional Office for Arab States, April 2016, 4.

80 UNHCR, “Inter Agency Information Sharing Portal—Jordan,” UNHCR, Syria Regional Refugee Response, January 2, 2018,

81 Human Rights Watch, “Jordan—Events of 2016,” Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2017,

82 “Life in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan’s Fourth Biggest City,” Oxfam International,; and Maha Yahya, “A Syrian City in Jordan,” Diwan (blog), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 8, 2017,

83 Luigi Achilli, “Syrian Refugees in Jordan: A Reality Check,” Migration Policy Center, February 2015,

84 As of 2015, there were over 16,000 Syrian refugees living in informal tented settlements. These refugees constitute 1 percent of Jordan’s current Syrian refugee population. See Alex Odlum, “Syrian Informal Tented Settlements in Jordan: Humanitarian Gaps and Challenges,” Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration 5, no. 2 (2015): 26–31.

85 Norwegian Refugee Council, “In Search of a Home: Access to Adequate Housing in Jordan,” Norwegian Refugee Council, June 2015,

86 UNHCR, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Jordan University of Science and Technology, and World Health Organization, “Syrian Refugee Health Access Survey in Jordan,” December 2014, 15.

87 UNHCR, Jordan Refugee Response: Vulnerability Assessment Framework Baseline Survey (Amman: UNHCR, 2015).

88 CARE Jordan, “Syrian Refugee, Other Minority Refugee, and Jordanian Host Households—Factsheet,” CARE International, June 2017,

89 REACH Initiative, “Social Cohesion in Host Communities in Northern Jordan,” REACH Initiative, May 2015, 38,

90 Ibid., 3.

91 Human Rights Watch, “We’re Afraid for Their Future.”

92 Government of Jordan, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, “The Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis 2017–2019,” Government of Jordan, February 23, 2017,

93 UNICEF, Running on Empty II: A Longitudinal Welfare Study of Syrian Refugee Children Residing in Jordan’s Host Communities (Amman: UNICEF, 2017).

94 Ibid. Also see REACH Initiative, “Access to Education for Syrian Refugee Children and Youth in Jordan Host Communities—Joint Education Needs Assessment Report,” REACH Initiative, March 2015,

95 REACH Initiative, “Access to Education for Syrian Refugee Children and Youth in Jordan Host Communities.”

96 Irene Lorisika, Leon Cremonini, and Malaz Safar Jalani, Study to Design a Programme/Clearinghouse Providing Access to Higher Education for Syrian Refugees and IDPs —Final Report (Brussels: Delegation of the European Union to Syria, 2015); and Hana Addam El-Ghali, Roula Berjaoui, and Jennifer DeKnight, Higher Education and Syrian Refugee Students.

97 Amnesty International, “Living on the Margins: Syrian Refugees Struggle to Access Healthcare in Jordan,”Amnesty International,March 2016,

98 Ibid.

99 UNHCR, Health Access and Utilization Survey: Access to Health Services in Jordan Among Syrian Refugees—Baseline Survey (Amman: UNHCR, 2016),

100 Focus group discussion no. 38 in Irbid, Jordan, August 15, 2017.

101 CARE Jordan, “7 Years Into Exiles.”

102 Ibid.

103 REACH Initiative, “Social Cohesion in Host Communities in Northern Jordan.”

104 Department of Statistics, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, February 5, 2018,

105 Focus group discussion no. 38 in Irbid, Jordan, August 15, 2017.

106 Maira Seeley, Jordanian Hosts and Syrian Refugees: Comparing Perceptions of Social Conflict and Cohesion in Three Host Communities (Amman: Generations for Peace Institute, May–December, 2015).

107 Focus group discussion no. 33 in Amman, Jordan, August 13, 2017.