Jordan hosts about 1.36 million Syrians, including both registered and unregistered refugees, representing around 15 percent of Jordan’s total population. Approximately 90 percent of Syrians in Jordan are living outside camp settings in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, and around 10 percent are living in one of two refugee camps—Zaatari and Al Azraq.
This paper investigates whether the living arrangements of Syrian refugees in Jordan—camp settings versus out-of-camp settings—affects their quality of life. Quality of life is measured using a multidimensional quality of life indicator capturing two dimensions of quality of life: (1) ‘life satisfaction’, a subjective measure of wellbeing from 0 to 10; and (2) ‘material living conditions’, incorporating various indicators of household income, poverty, savings, assets, satisfaction with services, and housing conditions.
The analysis is based on data from the 2015 Syrian Refugee and Host Community Survey, which gathered data on living conditions of samples of out-of-camp and in-camp refugees, as well as a sample of a host population. The data covers 2,399 Syrian refugee households, including both registered and unregistered refugees. About 50 percent of the surveyed households lived outside of camps. Among surveyed camp residents, 832 households lived in the Zaatari refugee camp, and 359 lived in the Azraq refugee camp.
Data are analyzed using econometric methods such as difference-in-differences and propensity score matching, to address the possibility of selection bias, i.e. that refugees who choose to live out of camps differ in characteristics from those who choose to remain in camps (for example, refugees who choose to live outside of camps may have better social networks, may be in a better financial position, or are pursuing employment opportunities). The methodology separately identifies the effects on female-headed and male-headed households, and evaluates effects separately for the two refugee camps.
- Moving from a camp to out-of-camp setting can significantly improve refugees’ overall life satisfaction.
- The increase in life satisfaction of out-of-camp refugees does not appear to come at the expense of life satisfaction of the native population. The host population’s life satisfaction trend remained relatively unchanged through 2010 and 2015—the period in which Jordan experienced a major influx of refugees from Syria—compared to the refugee groups, although the host population perceives that the future could be worse.
- Camp-based refugees are significantly more likely to have lower income per capita than out-of-camp refugees. After controlling for pre-crisis characteristics, refugee households living in camps earn on average 14.77 Jordanian Dinars (approximately, US$ 20) per household member per month less than refugees living out-of-camps.
- Refugees in camps are 36 percent more likely to live below the national abject poverty line, and consequently find it difficult to meet daily basic needs. About 62 percent of households living in camps are at risk of living in abject poverty compared to 28 percent for those living outside of camps.
- Camp-based refugee households have lower savings and own fewer assets compared to out-of-camp refugees. Camp-based refugees are less likely to say they are able to lend up to JD150 to friends. On average, refugee households living out of camps possess seven of 17 assessed assets—double the number of camp households.
- Camp-based refugees are 37 percent more likely to live in overcrowded shelters and are less satisfied with water, electricity, and sewerage access. On average, refugees living outside of camps have one living space per adult equivalent compared to less than one (0.7) living space per adult equivalent for refugees in camps. Besides having more living space, households living outside of camps are more likely to be satisfied with their access to services such as sewerage, electricity, water, and garbage disposal.
- Quality of life indicators differ by gender of the head of household. Female-headed households tend to be more vulnerable than male-headed households, regardless if they live in or out of camps—they earn less, are more likely to be at risk of deprivation in basic needs, and own fewer household assets. Conversely, female-headed households, both in and out of camps, are less likely to live in overcrowded accommodation (possibly because of the absence of the household head). Female-headed households are less likely than male-headed households to report increased life satisfaction if they move out of camps, even though moving out-of-camp tends to decrease female-headed household poverty more than for male-headed households.
- Refugees in the Zaatari camp, located close to Amman, and which has hosted refugees for a longer time, generally enjoy higher quality of life compared to refugees in the Azraq camp, situated far away from any city. While there seems to be no difference in income and poverty indicators between refugees living in the Zaatari and Azraq camps before and after controlling for differences with respect to the situation before the Syrian crisis, nevertheless refugees living in the Azraq camp have lower quality of life indicators. Refugees in the Azraq camp tend to have less living space, have on average half the number of households assets as refugees in Zaatari, and are less satisfied with electricity, sewerage, and water services. This may reflect the closer proximity of the Zaatari camp to the nearest city in Jordan, and the earlier arrival of the camp residents—both factors that would increase opportunities for integration.
The author concludes that, while refugees’ overall quality of life is low, nevertheless refugees living outside of camps enjoy relatively higher quality of life than those living in camps. Another key finding is that, despite being deprived in terms of several outcome indicators compared to male-headed households, female-headed households can significantly reduce their poverty level when they move out of camps. The research also suggests that refugees living in camps closer to a major city have better quality of life than those who live in camps further away.