Since 2003, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been severely tested by armed conflicts in Iraq and Syria, taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees and experiencing economic and demographic shocks as a result. Jordan now hosts more than 654,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);1 the 2015 census estimated that there were 1.26 million Syrians living in the country.2 Approximately 79 percent of the registered Syrian refugees live outside of Jordan’s two refugee camps for Syrians, Zaatari and al-Azraq.
Over the past six years, more than 5.3 million Syrians have fled the violence and deprivation of the civil war. The vast majority — 4.91 million people — have settled in just three host states: Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.3 The arrival of so many in such a short time has had significant effects on the political, economic and social climates of the host states. While the long-term impact of these trends has yet to fully manifest itself, small countries like Jordan and Lebanon will be affected for years and even decades to come, if history is any indication.
The vast majority of Syrian refugees in the region live outside of camps and are classified as "urban," "non-camp" or "self-settled." The majority of non-camp refugees live in towns and cities, which offer better access to services, more economic opportunity, and the ability to move around and integrate themselves into the local community.4 Urban refugees face significant barriers to accessing aid, as they are more difficult for organizations to identify and reach; they live alongside other marginalized groups; and they often do not register with UNHCR or other agencies for fear of identification, among other issues. Urban refugees also have more direct impact on the host society’s infrastructure, services and economy than refugees in camps, and this can lead to a lower standard of living for the host community.
Jordan is the third-largest regional host state, but — after Lebanon — second in terms of the demographic impact of Syrians on the country. Of the 9.6 million inhabitants of Jordan, including nationals and the foreign born, Syrians make up between 6.8 and 13 percent.5 Resources to expand access to services, housing and employment have not kept up with rising demand. The government estimates that, as of 2016, it has spent $8.6 billion in direct costs for hosting Syrian refugees since the onset of the crisis — approximately 16 percent of the annual budget.6
The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan 2017-197 for Jordan, published jointly by the UNHCR and the government, has called for $7.68 billion in aid over three years.8 Yet appeals for international donations have met an average of only 60 percent of total needs from 2014 to 2016. As of October 2017, only 42 percent of the UNHCR’s appeal for Jordan had been fulfilled, a shortfall of nearly $700 million.9 Funding deficits, coupled with competition over jobs and resources, and infrastructure degradation, have heightened intercommunal tensions.10 It is in this context that the government of Jordan has shaped its policies toward Syrian refugees. Yet, contrary to expectations, in 2016 Jordan surprised many observers when it announced the terms of what would become known as the Jordan Compact, a commitment to granting Syrians access to work permits and expanding educational opportunities for refugees.11 This had previously been a political nonstarter.
Jordan’s policy concessions achieved their intended goals: at the 2016 London conference, nearly $1.4 billion in grants were pledged, 37 percent higher than the $988 million originally pledged.12 Additionally, Jordan received access to $923 billion in loans, many of them at concessional rates previously unavailable to a middle-income country. This raised Jordan’s access to development financing to $1.8 billion in 2016.13 In June 2016, the EU also announced the initial terms of the trade deal promised under the Jordan Compact, giving manufacturers who employ certain quotas of Syrian refugee workers tariff relief, among other benefits.14
The Jordan Compact was declared a success on many levels by humanitarian organizations, donor states and the government of Jordan. With enhanced access to work and education, Syrian refugees could begin to support themselves and contribute to the economy. They would also enjoy additional protections and labor rights under the migrant-work-permit system and the Ministry of Labor. In addition, the government received significantly higher levels of direct budget transfers from the international community as well as taxes from Syrians and their employers. Some hailed the Jordan Compact as a model for the long-awaited "sustainable refugee response," a silver bullet to address the issue of ineffective injections of short-term emergency aid into refugee situations that are increasingly non-camp, urban and protracted.
Jordan’s abrupt change of policy regarding Syrians’ ability to work in the country reflects a shift in its rent-seeking strategy for humanitarian aid in the context of an evolving market. Major donor states to UNHCR — chief among them the United States, the European Union, individual European and Arab countries, and Canada — have significant influence over how humanitarian funding is allocated and which crises and host countries receive more resources and attention.15 Yet host countries are far from passive recipients of either aid or refugees, particularly experienced host states like Jordan. Their various policy strategies adopted in the attempt to attract higher levels of funding reveal them as important actors in aid negotiations, with greater agency than is commonly portrayed.
Jordan’s decision to offer refugees work rights surprised many observers. Until 2016, refugee work rights were not on the table in discussions between the government of Jordan and international stakeholders.16 As recently as June 2015, mention of work rights in even informal conversations with government ministries could lead to an abrupt end to meetings.17 Perceptions are widespread that Syrians working informally take Jordanian jobs. Therefore, granting Syrians the right to work was considered unacceptable in a country where the native unemployment rate officially stands at 12-14 percent as of June 2017 and is much higher among women and youth.18
Yet throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, Jordan’s policy approach has been slowly evolving in response to trends in the international market for humanitarian and development funding. Policies or programs that suggested the long-term permanence of a supposedly temporary population have been problematic throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, in part due to Jordan’s experience of hosting Palestinians and Iraqis. Jordan’s history as a refugee host stretches back to before it was formalized as an independent state; refugees have always played important roles in its politics, society and even security forces. During the Ottoman era, Jordan became home to Muslim Chechens and Circassians fleeing from the Russians in the Balkans and Anatolia in the nineteenth century. The latter group has come to play a unique role in the modern Jordanian security forces; a Circassian unit even guards the royal family. Armenian refugees fleeing the twentieth-century Ottoman genocide also settled in Jordan.19
After Jordan’s independence from British control in 1946, the newly crowned king, Abdullah I, soon found his small desert land overwhelmed by Palestinians fleeing the nakhba (catastrophe) of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. This influx, and that prompted by the subsequent annexation of the West Bank in 1949, tripled the population of Jordan, leaving "native" Transjordanians in the minority.20 Today, Palestinians are estimated by the Jordanian government to make up nearly half (43 percent) of the total population,21 although this figure is widely believed to be significantly lower than the actual percentage. Unofficial estimates place Palestinians at 60-65 percent of the total population, but their numbers are consistently underreported by the government.22
Despite its long history as a refugee host state, Jordan did not sign the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and to this day lacks a national law on refugees. The government did, however, grant Palestinians in the country citizenship in 1954, the only regional host state to do so.23 The government, and King Hussein in particular, framed the naturalization policies as part of his duties under the culture of Islamic/Bedouin/Arab guesthood.24 Beginning in 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) established 10 official camps in Jordan for Palestinian refugees, and three unofficial camps were established in 1967 following the Six-Day War. Although most camps have been engulfed by expanding urban centers, many remain pockets of economic deprivation and lack adequate infrastructure.
In the 1960s, Palestinian refugee camps increasingly fell outside the Jordanian government’s control, becoming enclaves for rising Palestinian nationalism and militias. These "mini-states" finally came into direct and bloody conflict with the government at the end of the 1960s, primarily in clashes between militias affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian as well as Israeli militaries. The 1968-71 PLO war in the West Bank, which had been occupied by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and the carnage spilled over into Jordan. The conflict reached its bloody peak in 1970, Black September.25 During that time there were multiple assassination attempts on King Hussein and high-profile airplane hijackings. Although a peace agreement was signed between the PLO and the Jordanian government in October 1970, fighting continued until July 1971.
The rise of the PLO resistance and subsequent civil conflict could and perhaps should have sparked a closed-door policy toward refugees in the kingdom, as one might expect following a near civil war relating to a refugee population. But in the case of the next large arrival of refugees (the Iraqis, 1991-2009), the Jordanian government did not close its borders or warehouse refugees in camps. During the first Gulf war, 1990-91, recalling how camps had provided Palestinian militias with recruits and a base for operations, and cognizant of the fierce sectarian divisions in Iraq and its potential to spread to Jordan, the government chose not to construct camps.
A decade later, as hundreds of thousands of additional Iraqis arrived in the country during the Iraq War, Jordan continued to allow them to settle among the local population.26 The policy against encampment satisfied the needs of both the Jordanian government and the refugees. In addition to addressing security concerns, the government saw that the economy could benefit from the infusion of the relatively wealthy Iraqis’ resources. The refugees, for their part, feared "Palestinianization" of a different sort — an indefinite internment in a camp with its attendant poverty and security issues — and welcomed the ability to live more freely.
The arrival of Iraqi refugees in Jordan during the first Gulf war led to a major shift in the international community’s presence in Jordan. Previously, UNRWA had been the dominant refugee agency in the country, its mandate limited to serving the Palestinian refugee population, many of them in camps. With the arrival of the Iraqi refugees, UNHCR began its first significant operation in the country and had to focus on meeting the needs of urban refugees, given the government’s policies against encampment. Following the establishment of its first permanent office in the country in 1997, UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Amman in 1998, although Jordan is still not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Extremely careful not to classify the Iraqis as "refugees," Jordan labeled them "guests" intended to reside in the country temporarily.27 With the second influx of Iraqi refugees during the Iraq War, UNHCR began spending more per refugee in Jordan than it did in any other concurrent crisis.28 Regardless of its nonsignatory status to international refugee law and the lack of domestic legislation pertaining to refugees, Jordan sits on the Executive Committee of the UNHCR and has been a crucial host-state partner in the shaping of its policies and practices since the 1990s.29 UNHCR, in turn, has expanded its presence in Jordan significantly expanded in the past two decades and has increasingly shifted aid directly to the state.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jordan granted Iraqis permission to attend public schools and adopted a laissez-faire approach to Iraqis’ participation in the economy, whether they worked informally or owned businesses.30 Throughout both Gulf wars, Jordan continued to frame Iraqi residence in Jordan as temporary, within the contexts of both "guesthood" and Islam.31 However, the 2005 bombings of hotels in Amman, which were carried out by Iraqis, led the state to view the refugees as potential security threats; subsequently, policies became less accommodating. The government’s security concerns were compounded by a lack of funding from the international community, and it began significantly restricting Iraqis’ access to Jordanian services in 2006.
By 2007, Iraqis were not allowed to attend public schools or access the national healthcare system unless they did so through schools or clinics funded by UNHCR. Jordanian officials also cracked down on informal work and business ownership.32 Only when 60 percent of UNHCR’s budget for 2007 was transferred directly to the government did Jordan relax these policies. This was one of the first and most important signals that international aid could be transferred directly to the state in return for refugee protections and access to services.33 This period (2003-09) saw the rise of Jordan’s use of refugee rights as an "implement of rent-seeking,"34 an indication of things to come during the Syrian refugee crisis.
THE SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS
Prior to the Syrian conflict, the border between Syria and Jordan was porous, and the two countries were major trading partners. Syrians had not previously needed a visa to enter the country, and many families have ties across the border. Relations between the two governments were not as close, however, despite a rapprochement at the beginning of the regimes of Bashar al-Assad and Abdullah II in the early 2000s. The Syrian government has a history of interfering in Jordan’s domestic affairs to destabilize the monarchy, including supporting Palestinian militias hostile to the government.35
Still, King Abdullah II was reluctant to condemn Assad’s actions in the early months of the Syrian civil war and pursued an open-door policy for refugees fleeing the conflict, calling them "guests," like their Iraqi predecessors. From 2011 to 2013, Jordan pursued relatively welcoming and accommodative policies towards Syrian refugees, a stance that began to change as arrival rates grew exponentially in the latter half of 2012 through 2013.
In July 2012, Jordan opened the first of two refugee camps for Syrians in the country: Zaatari camp near Mafraq in northern Jordan. Following the influx of arrivals in 2013, the camp became extremely overpopulated, reaching an estimated 130,000 residents before tapering off to around 80,000 in later years, as refugees moved to urban areas, both through the official bailout system and by leaving unofficially.36 The opening of al-Azraq camp in April 2014 and the subsequent routing of all new arrivals to that location also helped to decrease Zaatari’s residents.37
Despite the media focus on Zaatari, the vast majority of refugees in the country live outside of camps. Reflecting the settlement patterns in Jordan as a whole, most Syrian refugees have settled in urban or peri-urban areas, often living alongside marginalized groups such as other refugees, migrant workers and impoverished Jordanians.38 Rather than force Syrians to rely on parallel (and often underfunded) service delivery from international organizations, since the beginning of the crisis the government has allowed them access to the national healthcare and education systems. Areas of high refugee settlement have concurrently experienced rising rents, decreased access to services, degraded infrastructure, and competition over jobs and resources, leading to heightened tensions with other communities.
The government’s decision to allow Syrians access to the national healthcare and education systems is itself surprising. By integrating Syrians into local structures, the government took the risk of angering citizens, who would now need to share infrastructure that was already stretched to the breaking point in many areas. In doing so, however, Jordan has been able to lobby for more direct transfers to the state from the international community, rather than funneling assistance directly to humanitarian organizations or camps.
Because of these policies, the government can allow or deny refugees access to local infrastructure and crucial services, including healthcare and education, just as it did during the Iraqi refugee crisis. Jordan has used its refugee policies as leverage in international negotiations to lobby for increased access to aid, and threatened to retract protections and services if it is not delivered. In 2013, for instance, the World Bank approved a $150 million loan to Jordan for its bread subsidy program despite its official stance against subsidies. In return, Jordan pledged to spend $55 million of the loan on subsidies for Syrian refugees.39
The Jordanian government has also taken an increasingly active role in UNHCR’s Regional Response Plan (RRP), which in 2015 was renamed the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP). According to humanitarian practitioners, Jordan’s direct collaboration in these processes led to the gradual predominance of "resilience" and "local capacity" building over a purely humanitarian approach.40 The category "resilience," introduced in the 2015 3RP, justified higher direct transfers to the Jordanian government in the name of local capacity building. Specifically, resilience activities
… [adopted] as a primary planning assumption the recognition that (a) the Syria crisis is provoking a developmental disaster in parts of Jordan; (b) the crisis has impacted national and local systems and institutions, which have to be addressed and mitigated to ensure refugees’ and vulnerable Jordanians’ continued access to basic services and to prevent a deterioration of social cohesion; and (c) efforts to mitigate these impacts must be integrated with the refugee response and extended through a resilience-based programming approach.41
Large sectors such as education, health, environment, energy and local governance now fall under resilience activities, resulting in a 2015 appeal for $1.191 billion in international assistance.42 The 2015 Jordan Response Plan (JRP) also called for $1.144 billion in direct budget transfers to the state to pay for subsidies to Syrians, security, infrastructure depreciation and income loss, in addition to the funds designated for local capacity building43 In urban areas, Jordanians must make up a minimum of 30 percent of the beneficiaries, although in some sectors or programs this quota rises to 50 percent.44 By contrast, in the more humanitarian-focused 2014 RRP, the sixth iteration of the RRPs, the Jordanian government was only allocated $413 million in direct budget transfers, or just over a third of the total for 2015. A much greater majority of funding for the 2014 RRP was allocated to humanitarian organizations.45
By reframing the crisis as a "developmental disaster" rather than a purely humanitarian one, Jordan has increasingly shifted humanitarian and development assistance directly to the state. This framing has taken place not only in traditional humanitarian settings, but also at important international development conferences. At the 2015 Third International Conference on Financing for Development, in Addis Ababa, Jordan issued a statement linking the country’s development outcomes to the broader refugee crisis, calling for changes to eligibility criteria for international development assistance and finance — to include middle-income countries hosting refugees as well as low-income countries, an appeal that would be answered at the London conference in February 2016.46
THE EVOLVING MARKET FOR AID
Jordan’s changes in refugee policies in many ways reflect shifts in the international market for humanitarian and development aid. The negotiations for the London conference in 2016 took place in the shadow of the European Union’s own migration crisis, which resulted more from EU policy than from sheer numbers of migrants. European donor countries and the United States were anxious to stem the flow of migrants arriving at their borders, especially in the wake of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
Cognizant of this attitude within major donor states, prior to the London conference humanitarian agencies lobbied the Jordanian government to expand refugee work rights in the country to garner more aid.47 That negotiations for aid are far from apolitical, as their guiding principles often state, should not surprise any observer. Aid is scarce relative to global needs, unevenly distributed according to absolute numbers, and tied to broader donor and host country political agendas. Jordan is one example of a small host country with a relatively strong economy that has nonetheless accrued ever-expanding sources of aid from international donors, in large part due to the government’s successful navigation of these markets.
Throughout UNHCR’s history, donor states have had major influence on how and where refugee responses are carried out. For instance, in the 1970s and 1980s, waning donor interest in continuing long-term "care and maintenance" programs led to a similar shift towards development-oriented approaches in UNHCR’s refugee responses.48 Donors were averse to injecting further large amounts of funding into refugee camps, which would never attain economic self-sufficiency, but they also did not want to invest too heavily in host countries that supposedly temporary refugees would one day leave to return to their countries of origin.49
In one of UNHCR’s largest operations during this period, for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, the result of donor-state influence was a refugee-employment program called IGPAR (1984-94), which provided 21 million days of employment and completed nearly 300 projects for $86 million.50 Similarly, the first and second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA I and II) in 1981 and 1984 resulted in a framework to respond to Africa’s more than 4 million refugees with development-oriented approaches. Unfortunately, the proposed interventions remained largely unimplemented and unfunded following the conferences.51
The end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and the corresponding ends of many related conflicts, reoriented donor states’ interest towards the return of refugees to their home countries. As a result, international humanitarian funding became focused on projects located in those countries, rather than host countries.52 Resettlement states, largely in Western Europe and North America, concurrently introduced more restrictive asylum policies and enacted containment approaches that aimed to keep refugees in their regions of origin.53
As the number of refugees who returned to their countries of origin, as well as those who were resettled to a third country, fell — following an initial surge during this period — the number of "protracted refugees" worldwide steadily grew.54 By the early 2000s, while resettlement and return became increasingly unlikely long-term solutions for the growing number of refugees worldwide, development-oriented approaches in host states came back into vogue among donors and the UNHCR alike.55
The current manifestation of development-oriented approaches favored by donors prioritizes temporary local integration, backed by transfers of both humanitarian and development aid to host states, and expanded formal refugee rights. As a result, international humanitarian and development organizations have reoriented their policies and funding priorities. These policy shifts have, in turn, been adopted by some host countries, like Jordan, more rapidly and adeptly than others.
The UNHCR’s own urban-refugee policies have rapidly adapted over the past two decades to increasingly align with the recommendations of academic researchers in the field. Scholars focusing on urban refugees and their livelihoods almost universally argue that international organizations and host governments should focus on leveraging the resources of urban refugees to realize economic benefits from hosting.56 The right to work and the right to education are featured prominently in their recommendations to host states and donors alike, as pathways to enhance urban-refugee protections, integrate them more fully into local structures, and create add-on benefits for the host state and local communities.
The UNHCR itself did not issue an agency-wide urban-refugee policy until 1997. That policy treated urban refugees primarily as "troublemakers" and "irregular movers"; it was widely criticized by refugee advocates.57 The 1997 policy was rooted in the UNHCR belief that urban refugees represent the "three Ds: difficult, demanding and dangerous."58 The policy reflected "minimum engagement" by UNHCR and the international community, "based on the presumptions of state responsibility for protection and assistance, and refugee self-reliance."59 Because refugees in urban areas fell outside the UNHCR mandate, they were also almost entirely cut off from international assistance, save for rare cases of medical necessity.60 Because of its negative reception and its implications for refugees, many humanitarian organizations and even UNHCR’s own missions simply ignored the policy.61
The ever-growing number of urban refugees, in particular the large numbers of Iraqis displaced after the U.S. invasion in 2003, led to the 2009 revision of the UNHCR’s urban-refugee policy. Dr. Jeffrey Crisp, who was instrumental in reshaping the policy, notes that in the case of livelihood scholars, academic advocacy had a direct impact on policy outcomes.62 The 2009 policy represented a major departure from the UNHCR’s previous stance, for the first time stating that urban refugees had the right not only to live outside of camps, but to access international assistance. The Iraqi crisis had already seen the largest urban-refugee response in regional host states in UNHCR’s history.63
The 2009 policy was followed by the 2014 Policy on Alternatives to Camps, in which the UNHCR stated that these were now preferred by the agency wherever possible.64 The 2014 policy acknowledged for the first time that "the defining characteristic of a camp… is typically some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees and their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives."65 Fully adopting the framing of refugees as potential benefits, UNHCR’s 2014 urban-refugee policy advocates that host states permit refugees to live freely outside of camps:
Refugees can better contribute to the communities where they are living when they are supported in achieving self-reliance in a way that is adapted to local conditions and markets. In many situations, the presence of refugees has stimulated local economies and development. Moreover, community-based protection activities and livelihoods and education programmes that also involve local people can promote social cohesion, reduce xenophobic attitudes and create a better protection environment. Where people work, study and play together, they are better equipped to resolve differences and live peacefully.66
As a practical matter, humanitarian agencies have struggled with the implementation of integrated approaches, and development agencies themselves have been reluctant to adopt refugee issues into their mandates.67 In recent years, particularly during the Syrian refugee crisis, development actors — often at the behest of donor states — have been more willing to focus on refugees and coordinate their activities with humanitarian actors. The inclusion of migration (including refugees) in four of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 was hailed by humanitarian organizations as a major step by the international community toward recognizing both the challenges faced by migrants, as well as their contributions to host societies.68
Some host states have also incorporated the framing of refugee crises as development opportunities; Jordan has been a significant early adopter. This is hardly surprising, given how prominently the urban response to the Iraqi refugee crisis in Jordan influenced the 2009 and 2014 revisions of the UNHCR’s urban-refugee policies. As the UNHCR has responded to changing trends and interests among donor states, Jordan has also adopted different policy approaches to try to attract additional aid and other resources. Viewed in this light, Jordan’s announcement of work rights for Syrians appears less a shocking reversal of policy than a culmination of its longstanding practice of using refugee policies as leverage to increase its access to aid.
Jordan’s ability to respond to these shifts so adeptly throughout the Iraqi and Syrian refugee crises is far from incidental. Jordan has many structural features that favor it in the markets for international aid. It has hosted large populations of refugees and coordinated with international humanitarian actors and major donor states throughout its history. In addition, there are significant contacts between the Jordanian government and humanitarian and development actors, as well as donor states, through Jordan’s alliances with the United States and the EU. Jordan also has a longstanding history of seeking rent for different forms of foreign aid.
While Jordan has a long history both as a refugee host and as a rentier state, the convergence of these characteristics has not been explored in the literature. "Refugee rentierism" is defined here as the phenomenon of using host status and refugee policy as primary mechanisms of international rent-seeking. While nearly all host states engage in some form of rent-seeking in international aid negotiations, the predominance of this type of assistance in refugee rentier states has significant policy impacts.
Just as Jordan’s history as a refugee host stretches back before its inception as a state, so too does its rentier history. Upon its establishment as a British protectorate in 1921, the new emir (later to become King Abdullah I) accepted a yearly subsidy of £60,000 from the United Kingdom, later increased to £180,000.69 Even after its nominal independence in 1946, Jordan’s finances remained under the direction of the British;70 the UK was the sole donor of aid to Jordan until 1949.71
Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the arrival of the Palestinian refugees and the infusion of U.S. and UNRWA aid dollars significantly shifted the rentier landscape in Jordan. From 1949 to 1975, foreign aid72 was the most important source of external rent in Jordan’s economy.73 In 1979, Official Development Assistance (ODA) from donor governments, the largest being the United States, peaked at over 44 percent of GDP. Jordan’s economy has grown relative to the amount of aid it receives; and in 2014, foreign aid only reached approximately 7 percent of GDP, although ODA still made up 24.6 percent of government expenditures.74 ODA has continued to grow in recent years, reaching nearly $3 billion in 2014 and $4 billion in 2016, largely due to the outcome of the London conference.75
The origins of using refugee rights as a strategic instrument of Jordan’s foreign policy can be traced to the arrival of the Palestinians. In offering them citizenship, King Hussein sought to position himself as the Arab and Muslim protector of Palestinian refugees.76 While he did not initially use Palestinian rights to seek international rents, in the coming decades, this would become an important foreign-policy tool as well as a rent-seeking aid.77 Contributions to UNRWA from the United States, in particular, augmented already large economic and military assistance transfers to Jordan, though they were far lower than current levels of humanitarian funding.78
Jordan’s first significant period of refugee-rentier behavior began during international negotiations for aid during the Iraqi refugee crisis in the Iraq War of 2003. As other sources of foreign aid had decreased in the 1990s and 2000s, Jordanian appeals for humanitarian aid during that war centered on the burden of hosting thousands of Iraqi refugees.79 The government highlighted the fact that Iraqi refugees lived entirely among the local population and directly affected the host community.
By using this strategy, Jordan was incentivized to inflate the size of the crisis and the level of need to elicit higher rent payments. It was criticized by many observers for allegedly overreporting the number of Iraqi refugees to gain more aid, citing numbers as high as 750,000-1,000,000, while other groups concluded that no more than 100,000-200,000 Iraqis were in the country as refugees.80 Jordan and the UNHCR also drew criticism for the steadily increasing levels of direct transfers to the Jordanian host government.81 Previously, the government had more quietly transferred resources to Jordanian communities from projects intended for Palestinian refugees.82 In 2007, the UNHCR allocated 60 percent of its operating budget directly to the government, and the United States transferred an additional $660 million as a supplemental payment to Jordan for hosting Iraqi refugees.83
The shift to explicit rent-seeking for humanitarian assistance had a significant impact on Jordan’s domestic refugee policies towards Iraqis. Visa restrictions, increased deportations and prohibitive passport requirements were imposed by the Jordanian government on Iraqi refugees in early 2007, but these policies were relaxed after the UNHCR allocated 60 percent of its operating budget to the government that year.84 In another instance, Jordan imposed further visa restrictions in May 2008, only to rescind them after the United States agreed to increase Jordan’s aid by $660 million over five years.85 Analyzing these events, Irene Gibson points out that "[t]he close relationship between increased aid and Jordan’s betterment of policies puts into question whether aid is being granted to directly ﬁnance betterment in the lives of Iraqi refugees or as a bribe to the Jordanian government to alter unfavorable policies towards refugees."86
By expanding or retracting refugee rights, Jordan was able to frame its ongoing ability to adequately protect and assist Iraqi refugees as dependent on contributions from the international community. The arrival of the Iraqi refugees increased both U.S. and international aid transfers to Jordan for its role and instigated the pattern of rent-seeking by trading refugee rights for increases in assistance. Seen through this lens, Jordan’s lack of binding domestic and international legislation regarding refugees is a deliberate choice intended to give the country the most operating space possible as it strategically implements (and retracts) policies over time. The government’s refugee rent-seeking strategy has reached its maturity in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis, culminating in the unprecedented outcome of the London conference.
THE JORDAN COMPACT
Jordan’s refugee rent-seeking strategy and its policy effects were on full display at the February 2016 London conference negotiations and in the subsequent Jordan Compact agreement. The London conference illustrates the competitive market for international humanitarian and development assistance in which refugee rentier states vie for limited resources. The negotiations highlight Jordan’s shifting rent-seeking strategy, as it correctly matched its strategy with the interests and needs of both donor states and international organizations, resulting in a higher level of per-capita assistance than either Turkey or Lebanon.
While Jordan had previously used refugee rights for rent-seeking, the highly political nature of their right to work meant that Jordan had to be convinced the payoffs would outweigh the domestic costs of exchanging work permits for aid. Staff at the UNHCR and World Bank lobbied the government for months, urging it to consider the sources of donor support that such a policy could unlock.87 Those in support of the strategy emerged victorious, in large part due to key individuals in the government, the UNHCR, the World Bank and the royal family.
The UNHCR’s Livelihood staff also worked with counterparts at the World Bank and within the Jordanian government to finalize the terms of the proposed assistance package, in particular development financing, prior to the London negotiations.88 According to a Livelihood officer with UNHCR Jordan, while "we understand that a work permit is not perfect… protection is our God,"89 and the right to work would offer a new form of protection for refugees, which Jordan could also leverage to access more humanitarian funds.
These conversations bore fruit. When the London conference opened in February 2016, the announcement to donors that Jordan would be willing to implement work rights for Syrian refugees in return for access to humanitarian assistance as well as — crucially — development financing was received with great excitement.90 Jordan’s country statement, delivered at the opening of the conference, reframes the appeal for assistance as an investment on the part of donors. In the introduction, Jordan calls for "a new paradigm… promoting economic development and opportunities in Jordan to the benefit of Jordanians and Syrian refugees." The country statement goes on to say,
New investment in Jordan is needed. A vital part of attracting business and stimulating economic growth is improved access to the EU market. Host communities need to be better supported. Support is urgently needed to address Jordan’s fiscal problems, ideally through grants. Progress on these issues will define progress on commitments made in this compact on overall development and the job opportunities available.
Jordan emerged from the London conference with aid pledges far surpassing those of other regional host states as measured by aid per capita.91 In addition to the funds of the 3RP, the London conference resulted in multilateral development banks more than doubling Jordan’s access to loans and grants from $800 million to $1.8 billion.92 The World Bank, the primary provider of development financing to Jordan and the main development actor in the London conference, usually bases its loan rates on a country’s GNI per capita. Jordan’s $4,680 currently classifies it as an upper Middle-Income Country (MIC), a status it has held since 2012. Jordan has not been classified as a Low-Income Country (LIC) since 1972 and was a lower MIC from 1973-2011. Yet Jordan has continued to access development financing at a high rate; it rose dramatically in 2016 due to the concessional loans made available at the London conference. While its reclassification as an upper MIC in 2012 would typically lead to falling levels of financing, instead the reverse occurred, particularly after 2016.
According to a U.S. State Department official in the Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau who was involved in the negotiations, "Jordan was able to change the whole environment of the London conference, which became not a refugee conference, but an international conference to help the host countries to host Syrian refugees."93 Even those within humanitarian and development agencies who had lobbied for the rent-seeking strategy were surprised by the results, particularly the level of development assistance offered by the World Bank and others in return for the refugees’ right to work.94
The trade benefits that donor states offered to Jordan were also unique and outside the realm of a typical humanitarian-assistance package. Following on these promises, the EU and Jordan announced a finalized trade agreement in July 2016 to relax rules of origin on 52 product groups for 10 years for manufacturers who employ a minimum quota of Syrian refugees.95 Taken together, the package of humanitarian aid, development assistance and trade benefits negotiated by Jordan far outstrips that of other regional host states. Even when the March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey is taken into account — which provided Turkey with a further €3 billion, or approximately $3.165 billion, Jordan still surpasses Turkey by more than $3,000 per refugee, and Lebanon by nearly $1,600 per refugee.96 Notably, in the less political 3RP 2016, the UNHCR allocates roughly equivalent amounts of aid per capita to both Jordan and Lebanon; the London conference funds alone create significant divergence between the two countries, illustrating the success of Jordan’s rent-seeking strategy at the negotiations.
The strategy, however, has political costs for the government, as the right to work for any migrant group is usually contentious, in this case made more so by intercommunal tensions. The domestic political costs incentivize Jordan to "not fulfill too many"97 of its pledges at the London conference. The practical effects of work rights on the welfare of Syrian refugees have fallen far short of expectations in the first year since they were established, with only 35,000 of the original goal of 200,000 work permits distributed by early 2017.98 Some experts believe the government knew that the Jordan Compact’s promises were not achievable in the current economic context, but that a lack of success would not have negative implications for aid delivery from donors. According to Temple University Prof. Sean Yom, an expert on Jordanian economics:
The bad business environment in Jordan is a pre-existing problem. To think we can make this work for Syrians — a disempowered, disenfranchised, fragmented population — when it hasn’t worked for Jordanians; that’s just nuts. If or when the Jordan Compact fails, Jordan doesn’t lose that much, because the refugee population is transient. For Jordan, this is win-win.99
While Jordan’s continued access to humanitarian and development assistance for its hosting of Syrian refugees is by no means assured, the outcome of the April 2017 Brussels Conference indicates that they will remain a significant source of rent for Jordan for the time being. While country-specific data has yet to be released, donors pledged more than $6 billion in grants and loans for 2017, and $2.2 billion in loans at concessional rates.100
The lauded Jordan Compact and the shift in Jordan’s strategies are not without negative implications. Though development-based approaches have long been advocated by urban-refugee and refugee-livelihoods researchers and practitioners, it is troubling that these approaches are implicitly and explicitly framed as avenues to decrease demand for resettlement and informal migration to donor states. This article was written in the weeks following the re-imposition of part of the current U.S. presidential administration’s complete moratorium on refugee resettlement for at least 120 days by the Supreme Court, until it could hear arguments for the case in October 2017. Development-based approaches to serve refugees living in host countries should not be used as a pretext to pursue these increasingly restrictive policies of resettlement and asylum. In 2015, less than 1 percent of refugees recognized by UNHCR worldwide were resettled to just 32 designated resettlement countries, a dismal record only expected to grow worse if the United States continues to block its own resettlement program, the world’s largest.101
There are also ethical concerns about the reclassification of refugees as essentially migrant laborers and what that would mean for refugee-protection space. Jordan already has key issues with the Ministry of Labor’s capacity to inspect all refugee workplaces, register informal businesses and protect refugee rights in a humanitarian space to which they are not accustomed.102 There are also concerns about the effects of Syrian participation in the labor market on other migrant groups. These fears have largely been unrealized, according to the most recent data. In July 2016, of 313,844 total migrant work permits reported by the Ministry of Labor, 22,687 permits, or just 7 percent of the total, were held by Syrians.103 Nearly a year later, in May 2017, approximately 50,901 Syrians had been issued work permits, making up 10 percent of migrant workers, although some of these were renewals. The number of work permits held by other groups, however, has risen to 475,081, for a total of 525,990.104 The large increase in the number of migrant workers bears further examination, however, as it is unclear what percentage of the number of work permits for 2017 are in fact renewals.
Although the results of the 2016 Jordan Compact have been mixed, the Jordan Document (similar to a country statement) presented at the Brussels Conference calls for additional development aid and trade agreements to ensure that the limited initial successes of the previous year can be expanded.105 These funds will likely also accrue directly to the government, as was the case with the Jordan Compact funds. Despite the rhetoric around the need for development, $834.6 million of the $935.6 million in concessional loans Jordan received in 2016 went to direct budget support, and only $93 million were allocated to development projects,106 demonstrating that the Jordanian government’s rent-seeking strategy has continued to pay dividends, even when results do not meet expectations.
On the other hand, should the supply of refugee-related rents fall, Syrian refugees may find that their newly granted rights in Jordan are anything but permanent. As the Syrian civil war drags on and donor interest wanes, the international market for aid could very well change once again in the near future, leaving the government of Jordan to shift its sources of rent, its rent-seeking strategy and, likely, its refugee policies.
1 Figures retrieved from UNHCR Regional Response Portal, July 11, 2017, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php. A note on figures: Numbers throughout this report are largely drawn from UNHCR and government sources, with media and NGO figures noted where necessary or where significant divergence exists. Counting every single Syrian on the move and registering them with UNHCR and governments, however, is highly political and logistically impossible. Population numbers throughout this report are intended to give the reader as accurate a range of estimates as possible, with notes on any figures that are controversial or disputed, or where different methods of measurement could be employed.
2 Mohammad Ghazal, "Population Stands at Around 9.5 Million, including 2.9 Million Guests," Jordan Times, January 30, 2016.
3 Throughout this paper, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are referred to as the "major regional host countries" for their hosting of more than 92 percent of registered Syrian refugees. It should be noted that Iraq also hosts more than 242,000 registered Syrian refugees, and Egypt hosts more than 122,000 (UNHCR Regional Response Portal); and Adrian Edwards, "Needs Soar as Number of Syrian Refugees Tops 3 Million," UNHCR, August 29, 2014, http://www.unhcr.org/53ff76c99.html.
4 Koichi Koizumi and Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Urban Refugees: Challenges in Protection, Services and Policy (Routledge, 2015), 1.
5 Susan Razzaz, A Challenging Market Becomes More Challenging: Jordanian Workers, Migrant Workers and Refugees in the Jordanian Labor Market (Beirut: International Labor Organization, 2017).
6Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2017-2018: Jordan (Geneva: UNHCR, 2017), 5.
7 The UNHCR released six versions of the Regional Response Plan (RRP) from 2012-2014 before shifting to the Regional Refugee Response and Resilience Plans (3RP), since 2015. These plans are collectively referred to as RRPs unless referring to a specific iteration of the plan.
8Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2017-2018: Jordan, 4.
9 Funding figures retrieved from Regional Response Portal, July 11, 2017, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php.
10 See Joseph Guay, Social Cohesion between Syrian Refugees and Urban Host Communities in Lebanon and Jordan (Amman: World Vision, 2015).
11 See In Search of Work: Creating Jobs for Syrian Refugees — A Case Study of the Jordan Compact (International Rescue Committee, 2017).
12Supporting Syria and the Region: Post-London Conference Financial Tracking (London: Department for International Development, February 2017), 5.
13 Ibid., 7.
14 European Commission, "Implementing the EU-Turkey Statement – Questions and Answers," news release, June 15, 2016, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-1664_en.htm.
15 See Jeffrey Crisp, "Mind the Gap! UNHCR, Humanitarian Assistance and the Development Process," International Migration Review 35, no. 1 (Spring 2001); and Gil Loescher, Alexander Betts and James Milner, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection (Routledge, 2012).
16 Patricia Ward, "Refugee Cities: Reflections on the Development and Impact of UNHCR Urban Refugee Policy in the Middle East," Refugee Survey Quarterly 33, no. 1 (2014): 77; and interview by author, UNHCR livelihood officer, October 2016.
17 Interview by author, UNHCR staff, June 2015.
18 Razzaz, Challenging Market, 25.
19 Oroub El-Abed, "The Discourse of Guesthood: Forced Migrants in Jordan," in Managing Muslim Mobilities: Between Spiritual Geographies and the Global Security Regime, ed. Anita H. Fabos and Riina Isotalo (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 81.
20 Anne Mariel Peters and Pete W. Moore, "Beyond Boom and Bust: External Rents, Durable Authoritarianism, and Institutional Adaptation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan," Studies in Comparative International Development 44, no. 3 (July 24, 2009): 266.
21 El-Abed, "Discourse of Guesthood," 81.
22 Ibid., 86.
23 Elise G. Young, Gender and Nation Building in the Middle East: The Political Economy of Health from Mandate Palestine to Refugee Camps in Jordan (I.B. Tauris, 2012), 110: "Jordan was the only country to grant refugees citizenship rights under the 1954 Jordanian Nationality Law. After 1988, when Jordan renounced legal claim to the West Bank, refugees in the West Bank received a Jordanian passport valid for five years. Palestinians who had come to Jordan from Gaza after the 1967 war were not considered citizens (Gaza had been under Egyptian administration), and Gazans who returned to Jordan, expelled from Kuwait after the Gulf War, were not entitled to citizenship, property, or the right to work."
24 Ibid., 83.
25 See Clinton Bailey, Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge: 1948-1983 (Westview Press, 1984); and John K. Cooley, Green March, Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs (Frank Cass, 1973).
26 Nicholas Seeley, "The Politics of Aid to Iraqi Refugees in Jordan," Middle East Research and Information Project 40, no. 256 (Fall 2010), http://www.merip.org/mer/mer256/politics-aid-iraqi-refugees-jordan; and Géraldine Chatelard and Tim Morris, "Iraqi Refugees, Beyond the Urban Refugee Paradigm," Refuge 28, no. 1 (Winter 2011).
27 Seeley, "Politics of Aid."
29 Dallal Stevens, "Legal Status, Labelling, and Protection: The Case of Iraqi ‘Refugees’ in Jordan," International Journal of Refugee Law 25, no. 1 (March 2013): 6-7.
30 El-Abed, "Discourse of Guesthood," 95.
33 Seeley, "Politics of Aid."
34 El-Abed, "Discourse of Guesthood," 97.
35 See Edward Gnehm, Jordan and the Current Unrest in Syria, issue brief no. 114, Peace Brief (United States Institute of Peace, 2011).
36 The camp "bailout" system is technically the legitimate way for Syrian refugees to leave camps and move to urban areas. Similar to kafala or sponsorship programs for migrant laborers throughout the region, a bailout entails finding a Jordanian sponsor to take responsibility for the refugees who leave the camp. Until July 2014, the requirement was only loosely enforced, leading many refugees to leave camps without sponsors. Due to increasing numbers of refugees, the Ministry of Interior, in particular, which distributes ID cards to registered refugees that allow them access to services like healthcare and education, made it more difficult to obtain the MoI cards for refugees outside of camps without a bailout document. An "urban reverification exercise" conducted by the government of Jordan in 2015 also led to some refugees being forcibly relocated to camps, although exact numbers are unknown (Francis 2015).
37 A third refugee camp, called "Cyber City," was funded by the United Arab Emirates and specifically houses Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). See Maisam Alahmed, "Statusless in Cyber City," Middle East Research and Information Project, no. 275 (Summer 2015), http://www.merip.org/mer/mer275/status-less-cyber-city.
38 Katarzyna Grabska, "Marginalization in Urban Spaces of the Global South: Urban Refugees in Cairo," Journal of Refugee Studies 19, no. 3 (2006), 289.
39 Jose Ciro Martinez, "Bread Is Life: The Intersection of Welfare Politics and Emergency Aid in Jordan," Middle East Research and Information Project 44, no. 272 (Fall 2014), http://www.merip.org/mer/mer272/bread-life.
40 Interviews by author: UNHCR officers, June 2015; humanitarian practitioners, March 2016; Livelihood Working Group meeting, January 2017.
41Jordan Response Plan (JRP) 2015, 77. Emphasis added.
42 UNHCR Regional Funding Snapshot, January 2016. Retrieved from Regional Response Portal.
43JRP 2015, 14.
44 Interview by author, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), March 2016.
45 Regional Response Plan (RRP) Jordan 2014, 116.
46 Imad Fakhoury, Jordan Statement at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, Country Statement (Addis Ababa, 2015).
47 Interview by author, MoFA, March 2016.
48 Crisp, "Mind the Gap," 172.
50 Ibid., 170.
51 Loescher et al., High Commissioner for Refugees, 42-43.
52 Crisp, "Mind the Gap," 174.
53 Loescher et al., High Commissioner for Refugees, 56.
54 UNHCR defines a protracted refugee crisis as one in which more than 5,000 nationals reside in a country outside of their country of origin for at least five years.
55 Ibid., 68.
56 See Karen Jacobsen, "Can Refugees Benefit the State? Refugee Resources and African Statebuilding," Journal of Modern African Studies 40, no. 04 (2002); Grabska 2006; Oliver Bakewell, "’Keeping Them in Their Place’: The Ambivalent Relationship between Development and Migration in Africa," Third World Quarterly 29, no. 7 (2008); Dale Buscher, "New Approaches to Urban Refugee Livelihoods," Refuge 28, no. 2 (Fall 2011); and Jeffrey Crisp, The Local Integration and Local Settlement of Refugees: A Conceptual and Historical Analysis, working paper no. 102 (Geneva: UNHCR, 2004).
57 P. Ward, "Refugee Cities: Reflections on the Development and Impact of UNHCR Urban Refugee Policy in the Middle East," Refugee Survey Quarterly 33, no. 1 (2014), 79.
58 Jeffrey Crisp and Marybeth Morand, "Better Late than Never? The Evolution and Implementation of UNHCR’s Urban Refugee Policy" (lecture, Trinity Term 2015 Public Seminar Series, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford, May 8, 2015).
60 Koichi Koizumi and Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Urban Refugees: Challenges in Protection, Services and Policy (Routledge, 2015), 2.
63 Jeffrey Crisp, Surviving in the City A Review of UNHCR’s Operation for Iraqi Refugees in Urban Areas of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria (UNHCR, 2009).
64 UNHCR Policy on Alternatives to Camps, report (UNHCR, 2014).
65 Ibid., 4.
66 Ibid. Emphasis added.
67 Loescher et al., High Commissioner for Refugees, 52.
68 International Organization for Migration, "Inclusion of Migration in UN Sustainable Development Goals, a Milestone," news release, September 25, 2015, https://www.iom.int/news/inclusion-migration-un-sustainable-development….
69 Peters and Moore, "Beyond Boom and Bust," 265.
70 Warwick M. Knowles, Jordan since 1989: A Study in Political Economy (I.B. Tauris, 2005), 27.
72 In Knowles, Jordan since 1989, "foreign aid" or "foreign assistance" as a category of rent for Jordan is measured by continuing total Official Development Assistance, U.S. military assistance (U.S. State Department data), and other bilateral donor country assistance.
73 For histories of Jordan’s distinct periods of rentierism, see Laurie A. Brand, Jordan’s Inter-Arab Relations: The Political Economy of Alliance Making (Columbia University Press, 1995); Knowles, Jordan since 1989; and Peters and Moore, "Beyond Boom and Bust."
74 Retrieved from World Bank country data, April 20, 2017, http://data.worldbank.org/.
75 2016 data on aid is currently incomplete, and data was adapted by the author based on preliminary financial reports and estimates by World Bank officials.
76 El-Abed, "Discourse of Guesthood," 83.
77 Knowles, Jordan since 1989, 27.
79 See Stevens, "Legal Status"; and Irene Gibson, "An Analysis of Jordan’s 2013 Policy Regarding Iraqi Refugees," Social Identities 21, no. 3 (2015).
80 Stevens, "Legal Status," 5.
81 Seeley, "Politics of Aid."
82 Peters and Moore, "Beyond Boom and Bust," 272.
83 Seeley, "Politics of Aid."
84 Gibson, "Jordan’s 2013 Policy," 205-206.
87 Interview by author, UNHCR Livelihood officer, October 2016.
91 Aid per capita (aid in USD per registered refugee) reveals variations in levels of funding in each host state on an equal level. Other metrics include dollars per refugee per day.
92 Victoria Kelberer, The Work Permit Initiative for Syrian Refugees in Jordan: Implications for Policy and Practice (Boston: UNHCR and BCARS, 2017), 11.
94 Livelihood Working Group meeting, January 2017.
95Supporting Syria and the Region; and European Commission Fact Sheet on the EU-Turkey Statement.
96 Jordan received an estimated $3,900 per registered Syrian refugee at the London Conference. Lebanon received $2,347, and Turkey received $540. Figures drawn from Supporting Syria and the Region.
97 Livelihood Working Group meeting, January 2017.
98 See Kelberer, Work Permit Initiative.
99 Sean Yom in Sarah Elizabeth Williams, "Jordan Looks to Turn Refugee Crisis into Economic Boon," IRIN, March 21, 2017, https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2017/03/21/jordan-looks-turn-refugee-c…. Emphasis added.
100Annex: Fundraising, Brussels Conference, report, April 5, 2017, 1 and 4. Retrieved from http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/04/pdf/Syri….
102 See Kelberer, Work Permit Initiative.
103 Figures drawn from Maha Kattaa, ILO’s Support to the Formalization of Syrian Refugees in the Labour Market in Jordan (Amman: International Labor Organization, July 2016).
104 Figures drawn from Maha Kattaa, ILO’s Support to the Formalization of Syrian Refugees in the Labour Market in Jordan (Amman: International Labor Organization, May 2017).
105Jordan Document (Brussels: Government of Jordan, 2017).
106 Ibid., 1.