Blog post by Bouthaina Ben Kridis (Arab Institute for Human Rights) a PhD Candidate in International Humanitarian Law at the University of Carthage, Tunisia. Bouthania is also a Member of the Centre for International and European Law and Maghreb-Europe Relationships in the University of Carthage.


The war in Syria has caused millions of people to flee for their lives. Considered as the largest refugee crisis in the Arab World, the Syrian crisis has resulted in the existence of more than six million internally displaced persons and almost five million people forced to cross the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey looking for safety. However, refugees living in neighboring countries suffer from increasingly precarious circumstances.  


The deteriorating situation of refugees could be explained by the lack of binding international instruments on refugee protection and the absence of enforcement mechanisms necessary to guarantee refugee rights. This also could be explained by the deficient ratification of international refugee treaties by different Arab countries such as Jordan and Lebanon and the absence of a legislative framework for asylum. Though some Arab countries have ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1976 Protocol like Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, none of these countries has a law on asylum issues. In addition to the fragile economic situation and the troubled national policies organizing refugee protection, the critical situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, precisely Jordan, could be due to the absence of burden and responsibility sharing.  


Following the same rationale of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) adopted in December 2018 by the UN General Assembly in order “to operationalize the principles of burden- and responsibility-sharing to better assist, protect and find solutions for refugees and support host countries and communities”, Jordan has expressed its interest in developing international burden-sharing tools by linking humanitarian and development needs in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, especially through adopting the 2016 Jordan Compact. Thus, analyzing the EU-Jordan Compact is necessary to determine the lessons from Responsibility Sharing Mechanisms.  


The Jordan Compact includes two main objectives of the GCR. The first objective is easing pressures on host countries through burden- and responsibility-sharing by supporting host countries towards a better assistance for refugees. The second objective is enhancing refugee self-reliance through creating and promoting job opportunities for refugees and achieve a better quality of life. Here, there is a focus on rights to decent work, livelihoods and economic inclusion strategies, and education for refugees.  


Like the GCR, the Jordan Compact aims to ease pressures on host countries through establishing more equitable burden and responsibility sharing. Therefore, this blog post suggests answering the following questions: How can the Jordan Compact be a model for burden and responsibility sharing for the Syrian refugee crisis? And to what extent does the Jordan Compact represent a paradigm shift to reach sustainable solutions for the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan?  


How can the Jordan Compact be a model for burden and responsibility sharing for the Syrian refugee crisis?


According to the UNHCR Operational Update of March 2021, Jordan, a country hosting the second highest share of refugees per capita worldwide, is among the most affected countries by the Syrian crisis and hosts more than 665,884 Syrian refugees. Being a small country with limited natural resources, Jordan has proclaimed the urgent need for fair sharing of responsibility towards Syrian refugees. In this context, the international community has tried to meet refugee needs and provide host countries with more assistance and resources to protect refugees. This led to the adoption of the Jordan Compact in February 2016 through which the EU and Jordan work together on addressing the impact of the Syria conflict and facing the Syrian refugee crisis.  


Jordan has expressed its interest in developing international burden-sharing tools by linking humanitarian and development needs in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, especially through adopting the 2016 Jordan Compact, based on strengthening mutual cooperation between Jordan and the EU.  


What is the 2016 Jordan Compact?


The Jordan Compact was adopted at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, hosted by the Governments of the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations. In addition to providing the necessary funding for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, the conference also aimed to develop an entirely new formula for integrating refugees into the neighboring host countries.  


The Jordan Compact was a new response chosen by world leaders as a non-traditional humanitarian assistance. Through an agreement between donors and the Jordanian government, the Compact aimed to improve employment opportunities and basic services for refugees towards providing a sustainable solution for Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan. In addition to supporting host community, the Compact was adopted to make Syrian refugees self-reliant through providing them with legal work opportunities and the access to public education.  


The Compact was based on an agreement between the World Bank, the European Union and various European governments and the Jordanian government to integrate Syrian refugees into the Jordanian labor market through creating jobs for them, mainly in Jordanian garment export factories. This was supported by providing multi-year funding and concessional loans, with pledges of around $700 million of grants annually for three years and concessional loans of $1.9 billion. Under this Compact, payment of grants and loans was linked to supporting the access of Syrian refugees to formal labor market. It was agreed that Jordan must issue 200,000 work permits for Syrian refugees in particular sectors.  


The Jordan Compact aims to open-up employment opportunities for Syrian refugees in exchange for easing exports to Europe and development projects. Under this Compact, the Jordanian government has committed to enroll 130,000 Syrian refugee children in formal education at all levels by the end of 2019 and to provide vocational training opportunities and legal employment to Syrian refugees.  


Besides, the Jordan Compact is complemented by a set of commitments, including $1.8 billion in pledges to support the Jordan’s economic growth and a UK commitment of $250 million to underwrite a World Bank loan. The Compact also comprises a minimum of EUR 747 million for 2016-2017.  


Why is this Compact needed?


The Jordan Compact can be a solution for the deteriorating situation of refugees due to the legislative deficiency and poor economic conditions. The Compact was the best way to address refugee issues especially their marginalization, threatening economic and social development. For instance, Syrian refugees have a poverty rate triple that of Jordanians. Besides, early marriage of refugees has quadrupled, and child labor has doubled. The refugee crisis has led Syrian children to be six years behind in school. Addressing these issues is necessary to realize the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including facing poverty and guaranteeing quality education, gender equality and decent work.


The Jordan Compact can be a long-term solution for the Syrian refugee crisis. Facts have proven that the needs of refugees and host countries extended beyond life-saving support and that support from the international community was needed to better match the long-term nature of the refugee crisis.  


To what extent does the Jordan Compact represent a paradigm shift to reach sustainable solutions for the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan?


What makes the compact different from other responses?


The Jordan Compact was innovative in that it used macroeconomic strategy, with international support, to build a multiyear approach to the protracted refugee crisis in Jordan. Considered as an innovative holistic approach in dealing with refugee crisis, the Jordan Compact helped to improve the economic inclusion of Syrian refugees in the host community and their self-reliance. The specificity of this Compact was its attempt to transform “the Syrian refugee crisis into a development opportunity”.  


The Compact was seen as a new approach in dealing with protracted displacement.  Grants, loans and preferential trade agreements with the European Union were in exchange for enhancing the access to public education and legal employment for Syrian refugees by the Jordanian government.  


Using a mix of traditional aid and other tools, the Jordan Compact aimed to create sustainable self-sufficient livelihoods for Syrian refugees and Jordanian hosts. According to the World Bank, if the Compact participates in improving economic opportunities for both Syrian refugees and Jordanians, it would be “a win-win situation”.  


What are the main achievements of the Jordan Compact?


Among the main achievements of the Jordan Compact, we can mention the development of labor market access especially through the existence of a progress in work permits issued (though it did not reach the target: 200,000 work permits). The Jordanian government issued 47,766 work permits to Syrian refugees in 2019, an increase of 4.6 percent over 2018.   Besides, the Compact has led to considerable improvement in education for Syrian refugee children through the enrolment of 136,437 in formal schools, representing a 2 percent increase in enrolment for Syrian children. This exceeded the enrollment target in the Jordan Compact.   We can conclude that the Jordan Compact is not only a model of burden sharing but it is also a model for inclusion of refugees. It linked between development and humanitarian planning and assistance. Through mobilizing funds in a short space of time, the Compact strengthened Syrian refugee livelihoods and resilience.  


What are the shortcomings and/or challenges?


Among the shortcomings of the Jordan Compact, we can note the weak design of the Compact, a design which excluded refugee perspectives. This made the Compact slow to improve their livelihoods and create economic opportunities. Despite the improvement of employment, some sectors remained closed to Syrian refugees.  


Despite the large number of enrolled Syrian refugee children in formal schools, the Jordanian government has not extended its documentation enrolment waiver to the 2019-2020 school year. This caused the rejection of enrolment of Syrian children by some schools.  


There were gendered challenges related to the employment of Syrian refugee women. The gender distribution of work permits was controversial. The percentage of work permits issued to Syrian women was lower than that for men. Nevertheless, this percentage increased from 4.5 percent to 5.8 percent.  


What are the recommendations and/or lessons learned?


  • It is necessary to consider Syrian refugee aspirations to realize tangible results as to the improvement of their economic situation

  • Being limited to sectors incompatible with the skills of Syrian refugees like plastic and metal industries is the main weakness of the Compact. Otherwise, the Jordan Compact should include other sectors which match refugee skills such as the agro-industry.

  • It is important to enhance refugee women’s empowerment and to take into account the perspectives of Syrian refugees of all genders.

  • The real needs of refugees and host communities alike should be taken into consideration.

  • Before adopting the Compact, it is necessary to do an analysis of the reality and identify the economic barriers in order to benefit refugees and host communities

  • The compact should engage partners, especially refugees, in designing solutions.

  • When determining solutions (through compacts for e.g.), host countries and international actors must be aware of refugees’ needs and legal, policy, and operational barriers which prevent them from being self-reliant.

  • Refugee protection objectives should be prioritized (it is necessary to increase the focus on achieving a larger protection environment).

  • In general, when thinking about improving burden and responsibility sharing principles, we need to better understand the limits of host countries capacities and strengthen the regional and international cooperation. Here, it is important to mention the relative absence of the Arab League as a partner in burden and responsibility sharing in the Syrian refugee crisis. The Arab League should assume its responsibility in this regard and cooperate with host countries to support Syrian refugees.



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