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Jordanian Refugee Policy | Jordan |

Jordan History, Politics, Economy Syrian Refugees in Jordan Jordanian Refugee Policy

Jordanian Refugee Policy

Dr. Abdel Baset Athamneh

/ 9 Minuten zu lesen

Jordan is not signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Nonetheless, the country has welcomed large numbers of forced migrants throughout its history. Today, the refugee population accounts for almost 30 percent of the total population with Palestinians and Syrians constituting the major groups of forced migrants.

July 2015: Children in a refugees camp for Palestinians in the capital of Jordan Amman. (© picture-alliance/AP)

Forced Migration to Jordan – Historical Developments

Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East. It has been influenced by regional movements of people, especially in the last six decades. This led to rapid population growth and changes in the composition of the population. It is estimated that Jordan's population was approximately 230.000 people in 1921, around 300.000 in 1938, and around 400.000 in 1947. The population spread unevenly across the country. In 1921, 43.5 percent of the population were concentrated in the northern region, 34.8 percent in the central region, and 21.7 percent resided in the South.

In 1948, two years after Jordan's independence, the Kingdom was affected by an influx of 506.200 Palestinian refugees. In 1967, Jordan welcomed another 390.000 refugees and displaced persons – 345.000 from the West Bank and 45.000 from the Gaza Strip. After that year refugee movements to Jordan continued, though in fewer numbers. Lebanese people sought refuge in Jordan during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990); in 1991 and 2003 refugees from Iraq arrived in Jordan due to the Gulf War and the Iraq War; in 1982, Syrians fled to Jordan as a result of a massacre in the Syrian city of Hama. While there are no data on how many Syrian refugees arrived at that time, the Norwegian Research Foundation (FAFO) estimated that the number of Iraqis who entered Jordan was somewhere between 450.000 to 500.000. Looking at the latest Census results (see below) it becomes clear that many of them must have eventually left Jordan, e.g. in order to return to their country of origin.

Since March 2011 unprecedented numbers of forced migrants from Syria have arrived in Jordan because of the Syrian Civil War or the so called Syrian Crisis.

Jordan's Migrant Population

Results of the General Census of Population and Housing in Jordan of 30 November 2015 indicate that the population growth rate in Jordan during the period (2004-2015) was 5.3 percent, 18 percent for non-Jordanians versus 3.1 percent for Jordanians. This development is clearly linked to the increased influx of migrants, especially forced migrants, into Jordan during that period. The migrant population is composed of 1.265.514 Syrians, including about 629.000 Syrian refugees registered with the Interner Link: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 130.911 Iraqis, including 51.000 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR, 31.163 Yemenis, and 22.700 Libyans.

Additionally, 634.182 Palestinians, mostly from the Gaza Strip, reside in Jordan who do not hold Jordanian nationality while another 2.1 million Palestinian refugees are registered in Jordan who acquired Jordanian citizenship under the decision of Jordan to annex the West Bank with East Jerusalem in 1950 (unification of the two banks of the Jordan River). Although many Palestinians in Jordan are naturalized, they continue to keep their refugee status because they remain under the mandate of the Interner Link: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Jordan's Policy towards Palestinian Refugees

Due to the large presence of Palestinians, Jordan's refugee policies have, for a long time, mainly focused on this group of people. Several underlying assumptions guide Jordan's attitude towards Palestinians such as that the majority of Palestinian refugees (about 95 percent) living in the Kingdom hold Jordanian citizenship, that Jordan is the closest to Palestinians historically and geographically, and that Palestinians holding Jordanian citizenship demographically resemble Jordanians without Palestinian background. Today, most Palestinians are well integrated in Jordan. They form a cross-section of Jordanian society with regard to their socio-economic situation. They are considered an essential component of Jordanian society. Especially Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship have the same rights and duties as Jordanians.

Nevertheless, Arab countries continue to believe that the Palestinian refugee issue is only a temporary one, no matter how long it will continue. This also holds true for Jordan. The idea that the Palestine refugee issue is only a temporary one and must be solved in accordance with principles laid down in resolutions and decisions of the United Nations has been manifested in Jordanian policies for more than sixty years and is also displayed in political attitudes and political discourse. Article 8 of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty of 1994 indicates the necessity of finding a just compromise for the refugee issue. Despite the stalemate of Arabic-Israeli peace negotiations in the last twenty years, Jordan still emphasizes on achieving a just solution according to the peace treaty and the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194 (December 1948) as a basis of Jordan's policy toward the Palestinian refugee issue. According to Resolution No. 194 a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue must include the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and be compensated for losses of and damage to their properties. In order to preserve their right to return and compensation Jordan refuses to permanently settle Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Instead, the Kingdom demands that the international community must take responsibility to support UNRWA which is considered as a candle of hope for the Palestinian refugees to achieve their rights of returning home, and the permanence of UNRWA is also regarded as a symbol for the survival of the Palestinian refugee issue. According to Jordan and other Arab countries a just and comprehensive solution to the conflict in the Middle East must include a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

Jordan's policy toward other refugee groups partially overlaps with its policy toward the Palestinian refugee issue. Thus, Jordan rejects the occupation of other territories by force, as the occupation is the basis of forced migration and refugee movements. The Kingdom has also adopted an open-door policy to welcome refugees although Jordan is not signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the country only keeps its borders open if security situations at the border permit to do so. Thus, there are periods of time when Jordan decides to close its borders. It does not do so in order to ban refugees from entering the country, but for security reasons. At the end of 2015, refugees (including Palestinian refugees who have the Jordanian nationality) accounted for about 30 percent of the total population of Jordan which approximately equals the share of foreigners in the country's total population which comprises approximately 9.5 million persons according to the latest General Census in Jordan (November 2015).

Jordan deals with refugees in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding of the Jordanian government and the Interner Link: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), signed in 1998, which laid down the rights and obligations of refugees in Jordan. Additionally, refugees are treated in accordance with the Law of Foreigners and Residence, No. 24 of 1973, which allows refugees to reside in Jordan until they can return to their country of origin or can be resettled in a third country. Article 5 of the Memorandum of Understanding provides for a six-month period for finding a solution (either repatriation or return) for refugees. Yet, in practice, Jordan did not enforce this period but used to renew residencies of refugees if UNHCR was not able to find a solution for them during the targeted period. Syrians have benefited from this practice. Many Syrian refugees have been living in Jordan since their arrival shortly after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in March 2011.

Jordan's open-door policy was not limited to the reception of refugees, but included the authorization for refugees to live outside the camps: only 17.4 percent of Palestinian refugees and 18.2 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in official refugee camps. Allowing refugees to reside outside the camps was supposed to facilitate their integration into the labor market as well as family reunification. Legally, however, refugees are not allowed to work in Jordan and it is very difficult for them to get a work permit. Yet, in practice, most Syrian refugees take up work albeit in the informal sector. According to Jordan's pledges at the donor conference in London in February 2016, Jordan will facilitate labor market access for refugees and grant work permits more easily in the near future.

Dealing with Syrian Refugees

Since the start of the Syrian refugee influx in March 2011 Jordan has upheld the clear attitude of not interfering in the conflict between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Syria. Instead, the Kingdom calls on the international community to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian Crisis and to put an end to the movements of Syrian forced migrants towards the neighboring countries. Jordan has also repeatedly emphasized the need to financially support the main host countries of Syrian refugees in the region. When the first Syrian refugees came to Jordan at the beginning of the crisis, they found a safe haven in Jordanian homes along the border between the two countries. Some Syrian refugee families are still living in the homes of Jordanian families. This is especially common in Al-Ramtha region in the far northwest of Jordan where there are strong historic ties and tribal relations of Jordanians and Syrians originating from Daraa' region in southwestern Syria.

When the refugee influx increased, the Jordanian government and international organizations, especially Interner Link: UNHCR, started to provide protection and relief services. On 13 January 2013, the government established a department for Syrian refugee camps affairs which was later modified and renamed "Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate". Since its reform, it has been responsible for all Syrian refugees in the Kingdom, providing humanitarian services and coordinating refugee aid activities between the Jordanian government and international and local organizations and associations as well as coordinating donor support. In February 2016, Jordan participated in the Syrian crisis-related donors' conference in London which provided a basis for cooperation between donor countries and refugee hosting countries and outlined several integrated steps to support Jordan with regard to the Syrian Crisis and its repercussions:

  1. Turning the Syrian refugee crisis into a development opportunity that attracts new investments and opens up the EU market for Jordanian products, creating jobs for Jordanians and Syrian refugees whilst supporting the post-conflict Syrian economy;

  2. Rebuilding Jordanian host communities by adequately financing through grants the Jordan Response Plan 2016-2018 (see below), in particular with regard to enhancing the resilience of host communities; and

  3. Mobilizing sufficient grants and concessionary financing to support the macroeconomic framework and address Jordan's financing needs over the next three years, as part of Jordan entering into a new Extended Fund Facility program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Jordan is committed to improve business environment and investment through a series of legislative, legal and structural reforms and incentives attracting local and foreign companies, including access to European markets by demanding the European Union to speed up the implementation of plans to review the origin rules in order to increase the amount of Jordanian goods entering the European Union markets and thus increasing employment opportunities in the Jordanian economy for Jordanians and Syrians refugees.

In this regard, Jordan launched a plan called "Jordan Response to the Syrian Crises Plan – JRP 2016-2018", which is supported by the international community with a pledged sum of 700 million dollars. It included the commitment that the Jordanian government will make the necessary administrative changes to allow Syrian refugees to work, and remove any restrictions preventing refugee economic activities inside the camps and trade with people outside the camps.

Finally, Jordan believes that providing education to Syrian refugees is a major way to open up prospects for their future. Therefore, the government takes an effort to ensure that every child in Jordan starting from the next academic year (2016-2017) will have access to education as long as the quality of education for Jordanians is not negatively affected.

This article is part of the Interner Link: country profile Jordan.



  1. Suleiman Mousa (1989), The Establishment of the Emirate of Jordan from 1921 to 1945: a Documentary Study, Third Edition, Al-Muhtaseb Library, Amman, p. 135.

  2. Ali Mahaftha (1990), Emirate of Transjordan: Origins and Development in a Quarter of a Century from 1921 to 1946: Dar Al Wefaq for publication and distribution, First Edition, Amman, p. 245.

  3. Musa Samha (1994), Distribution of Population in Jordan from 1950 to 1990, Population and Development Journal, Vol. I, p. 76.

  4. Suleiman Mousa (1989), the Establishment of the Emirate of Jordan from 1921 to 1945: a Documentary Study, Third Edition, Al-Muhtaseb Library, Amman, p. 135.

  5. The United Nations (1995), The Report of General Commissioner of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, p. 65

  6. Reports of the Higher Ministerial Committee for the Relief of Refugees and Displaced Persons, 1967.

  7. Iraqis in Jordan. Their Number and Characteristics (Externer Link:

  8. UNHCR (2016): UNHCR Factsheet. Jordan Field Office Amman. Externer Link:

  9. Jordan Department of Statistics (2016), Results of the General Population and Housing Census (2015), April.

  10. Jordan Department of Statistics (2016), Results of the General Population and Housing Census (2015), April.

  11. UNRWA (2015): UNRWA in figures as of 1 jan 2015.Externer Link: as of 11 April 2016.

  12. Atom, Basem and Abdel Baset Athamneh (2011), Some economic and social characteristics of the Palestinian refugees and displaced in the camps of Irbid Governorate and the surrounding areas: a comparative study, Damascus University Journal, Vol. 27, No. 1 & 2, pp. 535-572.

  13. Jordan Department of Statistics (2016), Results of the General Population and Housing Census (2015), April.

  14. Externer Link: as of 11 April 2016.

  15. Jordan Ministry of Interior/ Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate, Unpublished data, April 2016.

  16. Jordan Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, The Jordan Compact: A New Holistic Approach between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the International Community to deal with the Syrian Refugee Crisis, 2016.

  17. Jordan Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, Jordan Response to the Syrian Crises JRP 2016-2018, 2016.


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is director of the Refugee Studies Center and associate professor at the Department of Economics at Yarmouk University, Jordan.