By Dr. Oroub El Abed 

Jordan is taking a number of pivotal measures to fight the spread of COVID-19. In her latest post, Dr. Oroub El Abed, a principal researcher and co-investigator in Jordan at the Centre for Lebanese Studies, outlines the new challenges this crisis has created in the labour market, especially for the most vulnerable wageworkers, including refugees and migrants.

An alarming message from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission in Western Asia (ESCWA ) [1] warning of the severe consequences of the COVID-19 crisis on women, children and the daily workers of the informal sector who have no social protection or insurance. In Jordan, which has declared State of Emergency since March, 17th 2020, to take all pre-emptive restrictions to control the spread of the virus, a special fund has been established to address the needs of families inflicted by the crisis. “Al Khair” account, opened as per Defence Order No 4 of 2020,[2] for the benefit of underprivileged families at the Ministry of Social Development. The fund aims to channel the money from local and international donations to support the impact of the lockdown and curfew imposed on the cities.

Al Khair fund as explained by the Prime Minister of Jordan, shall target families that have been directly affected and the daily wage workers who have lost their source of income due to the lockdown. Moreover, as a way to support the private sector, especially the small enterprises, the Central Bank of Jordan has launched a soft financing programme for small-and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) [3] providing financing to professionals, craftspeople and SMEs to cover their operational working capital and limit the fall out of the coronavirus impact on their businesses.

This emergency response, that seeks to support national capital and mobilize resources to provide social protection to the poor and vulnerable people in the informal sector and to secure protection of the private sector workers, has not mentioned the refugees, per se, who also live under a nationwide curfew to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Jordan hosts multinational refugees especially the mass influx in the last twenty years as a result of the regional conflicts in the Arab World. Today, the Syrians constitute the majority where about 656,103 (as registered by UNCHR)[4] live in Jordan added to few ten thousands Iraqis, Libyans, Yemeni, Somali and Sudanese.

This is added to the Palestinian refugees, who do not hold the Jordanian nationality and make around 634,182 as per 2015 census.[5] The United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that refugees in Jordan who make about 745,192 live in majority 83.5 percent in urban areas meanwhile about 16.5 percent live in three camps for the Syrians in the north of the country and 17 percent in UNRWA camps for Palestine refugees.[6]

As part of Jordan compact, which sought in 2016 to economically integrate the Syrian refugees, certain jobs have been left open[7] for investing in the Syrian refugee human capital through mobilizing international funds in industrial economic areas. Currently, only 173,000 of Syrian refugees hold work permits and are able to work in the services and construction industries.[8] Yet, the majority of the refugees (including Syrians and other nationalities) have chosen to work informally, with no contracts or access to health or medical insurance which has made them even more vulnerable as a result of the three weeks of lockdown all over Jordan.

Both UNRWA, which serves the Palestinian refugees[9] and UNHCR[10] have launched COVID appeals in the month of March seeking additional funding to manage the emergency response, in order to support households who have lost their source of income with immediate cash assistance. Moreover, they are negotiating with key ministries in Jordan to ensure that the response measures taken by the government of Jordan concerning the employment sector of daily wage workers are applied as well to refugees, and not only citizens.

At the civil society level, there has been several initiatives led by the Jordan National Aid Fund (under the Ministry of Social Development) and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), inviting grassroots and local NGOs to share the contacts of their beneficiaries, regardless of their nationalities, who have been direly affected by the lockdown. Naua, a social impact platform (under Crown Prince Foundation) that aims to promote philanthropy and civic engagement, is leading a national campaign with the Ministry of Social Development to support daily wage workers and their 200,000 families through mobilizing aid from individuals and private sector institutions.[11] These initiatives seek to provide some financial support and basic food packages. With the month of Ramadan (the month of fasting for Muslims) looming in the near future, the situation, if the lockdown persists, may become more alarming.

Dr. El Abed is a Collaborator on the LERRN partnership, a postdoctoral research fellow and Co-investigator at the Lebanese American University Centre for Lebanese Studies on the project studying ‘From Education to Employment: Trajectories of Youth in Jordan and Lebanon in Contexts of Protracted Displacement.’

[1]  Coronavirus pandemic threatens to plunge millions in Arab region into poverty and food insecurity, 1/April/2020 https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1060822

[2] Jordan Times, 31/March/2020 : http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/pm-issues-defence-order-no-4-establishing-coronavirus-relief-fund

[3]  CBJ launches JD500m soft financing programme for SMEs

Jordan Times , 1/April/2020 http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/cbj-launches-jd500m-soft-financing-programme-smes

[4] https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/74320. The Jordanian government estimates the Syrians to be  around 1’500,000.

[5] https://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/population-stands-around-95-million-including-29-million-guests

[6] https://reliefweb.int/report/jordan/unhcr-jordan-factsheet-may-2019

[7] https://jordantimes.com/news/local/labour-ministry-announces-plans-limit-foreign-workers-2024

[8] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/73881.pdf

[9] https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/unrwa-launches-covid-19-us-14-million-flash-appeal-palestine-refugees

[10] https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/3/5e677f634/un-refugee-agency-steps-covid-19-preparedness-prevention-response-measures.html

[11] http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/cpf-initiative-mobilises-aid-daily-wage-workers-during-curfew