At the 2016 donor conference in London, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey committed to improving economic opportunities for Syrian refugees; and Jordan announced a compact to provide 200,000 work permits for Syrian refugees. By January 2018, 80,000 work permits were issued/renewed in Jordan, however only 35,000-40,000 work permits are valid at any time, and it appears unlikely that the 200,000 target will be met. The article highlights the lessons learned from implementing the ‘Jordan Compact’ for future livelihood interventions including
- Government approval is necessary but insufficient—the interests of other stakeholders shaping the political economy and labor market dynamics need to be recognized, e.g. government’s emphasis on recruiting Syrians to work in the garment industry failed to take into account the rights/circumstances of the existing migrant labor force and exploitative labor practices, which were unappealing to Syrians;
- “The critics are sometimes right”, e.g. experts highlighted several problems with plans to use Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and renegotiated terms of trade between the EU and Jordan (allowing preferential access to EU markets for firms based in particular zones and employing Syrian refugees as a minimum proportion of their workforce) in particular employers’ preferences for migrant workers who can be exploited more easily, and SEZs often failing to attract investment (due to high production/transport costs) or having a positive impact on the broader economy;
- Implementing agencies have lost sight of progressive goals to improve employment rights and conditions of Syrians, instead focusing on targets set by donors for the number of work permits, e.g. implementing agencies have encountered difficulties trying to formalize employment of the Syrians due to vested interests in the informal sector.