The Living Conditions of Syrian Refugees in Jordan: Results from the 2017-2018 Survey of Syrian Refugees Inside and Outside Camps

Åge A. Tiltnes, Huafeng Zhang and Jon Pedersen

Fafo-report 2019:04


Based on data from a national household survey implemented between November 2017 and January 2018, this report describes and contrasts the living conditions and livelihoods of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The analysis covers six localities: Amman; Zarqa; Irbid; Mafraq; the other governorates taken together; and the refugee camps. The report is based on information from 7,632 households and 40,950 individuals (97 percent registered with UNHCR). The authors find that the situation of refugees in Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid is significantly better than in the camps, Mafraq, and other governorates. Key findings:

  • Locations of origin: Almost half (48 percent) of Syrian refugees originate from Dara’a governorate in Syria, with smaller numbers from Homs (19 percent), Aleppo (10 percent), Rural Damascus (9 percent) and Damascus (8 percent).
  • Duration of displacement: 95 percent of respondents arrived after 2011 (including their children born in Jordan). 97 percent are registered with UNHCR. Average duration of displacement is 4.6 years. Two percent have been back in Syria.
  • Demographic profile: 48 percent of refugees are below age 15 (younger than the population in Syria prior to the crisis). There are more women than men aged 25 and over. Syrian refugee women marry much earlier now: while around 3 percent of 15-year-olds in Syria were married before the war, this number has risen to 14 percent; 71 percent of women aged 20 are married, compared to 43 percent in 2008. Men also marry earlier: while very few men had married by age 20 before the war, 23 percent had married as refugees in Jordan.
  • Household characteristics: Syrian refugee households in Jordan typically contain five people. Large, three-generation and extended households are rare. 22 percent of households have a female head.
  • Housing conditions: While pre-fabricated housing is the norm inside camps, out-of-camp refugees tend to live in apartments rather than stand-alone houses, particularly in Amman. Most dwellings are 2-3 rooms, except in camps where 1-2 rooms is the norm. Refugees in Mafraq and the camps live in more cramped conditions than elsewhere—whether measured by the number of rooms or the space in square meters. In-camp refugees do not pay rent; 98 percent of out-of-camp refugees rent a dwelling on the private market, with monthly rents in the range of JD120-150.
  • Water: 99 percent of refugee households rely on piped water or buy it from tanker trucks. 39 percent use this water for drinking, 57 percent use filtered water purchased in large containers, and 4 percent buy water in smaller bottles.
  • Household income: 70 percent of households rely on a combination of two or more income sources, most commonly: wages (61 percent) self-employment income (3 percent), private transfers (14 percent), institutional transfers (90 percent), property income (1 percent) and other income (11 percent). Institutional transfers are most common in the camps (100 percent) and least common in Amman and Other governorates (79 percent). Wage income is more common in Amman than elsewhere (69 percent). One-third of households are totally dependent on transfer income while another one-fourth rely mainly on such income. One-tenth of refugee households combine transfer and employment income while one-fourth primarily make a living from employment income. For Amman, Irbid and Zarqa, the median annual household income is around JD3,000; it is about JD1,000 lower in the camps, Mafraq and Other governorates.
  • Ownership of durable goods: Access to durables is lower among households in camps, but many durables are found in most households: most households have access to TVs (95 percent), satellite dishes and receivers (89 percent), refrigerators (89 percent) and washing machines (82 percent). However, very few own computers (2 percent) or have an Internet connection at home (4 percent). Only 1 percent of refugees own a car.
  • Household expenditures: Median monthly household expenditure comprise: rent (JD135); energy (JD21); food (JD120); tap water (JD5); bottled water (JD3); transportation (JD10); phone/mobile (JD10); and medical treatment (JD17, mean). Refugees in the camps, in Mafraq and in Other governorates have lower expenditures than refugees in Amman, Irbid and Zarqa.
  • Savings and debt: Two percent of all households have savings. Two-thirds of all refugee households have debt; the median debt among indebted households is JD450.
  • Food insecurity: The moderate and severe prevalence rate of food insecurity is 40 percent, while the severe prevalence rate is 18 percent (higher than the average severe prevalence rate of 12 percent for the region and 12.5 percent for Jordan as a whole).
  • Health: 16 percent of refugees report chronic health failure. The incidence of chronic health conditions is higher than in the Jordanian population. About one in five of the Syrian refugees attribute their problem to the war in Syria or the flight to Jordan
  • Health services: Refugees with chronic conditions more frequently use public and NGO-provided services, but many refugees (particularly those in Amman) also use private health care providers. Refugees with acute illnesses also tend to rely on public and NGO provided services, but use private clinics and hospitals more often. The poorest refugees tend to rely most on NGO services, which are often free or heavily subsidized.
  • Educational attainment: Educational attainment of Syrian refugees in Jordan is slightly lower than that of pre-war Syria, and considerably lower than educational attainment among Jordanians. 15 percent of adults aged 20 and above have achieved a secondary or post-secondary degree, 24 percent have completed basic education. 26 percent did not complete elementary school.
  • Educational enrolment: Enrolment and retention rates have improved substantially since 2014. For children aged 6-10, enrolment is nearly universal but then declines, particularly from age 12. Most refugee children (95 percent) enrolled in basic education attend a public school, 4 percent attend a private school and 1 percent attend an UNRWA school. In the refugee camps, all schools operate two shifts (girls attend the morning shift and boys attend the evening shift). Outside the camps, 71 percent of refugee children are enrolled in two-shift schools (two-thirds attend the afternoon shift). Ten percent of refugee children currently enrolled in basic education have repeated at least one school year. Only 3-5 percent of Syrian refugees aged 19-20 attend higher education compared to over 0 percent of Jordanians of the same age. Enrolment in post-secondary education is strongly associated with economic circumstances—about half of enrolled Syrian refugees are members of the 20 percent of households with the best score on the asset index.
  • Labor force participation: Labor force participation rates have improved since 2014. The labor force participation rate for men is 59 percent (ranging from 48 percent in Mafraq to 65 percent in Amman), comparable to that of the general population. The labor force participation rate for women is 7 percent, which is less than half the national rate (16 percent) and is the main reason why the overall labor force participation rate of Syrian refugees still lags behind the national rate. Labor force participation is higher for women in the camps. Refugees with post-secondary education are more often economically active than those with less education.
  • Unemployment: In addition to individuals defined as employed and economically active using the previous week as the reference period, another 7 percent of adults (mostly men) had held one or more jobs during the 12 months leading up to the survey. Unemployment has dropped from 61 percent in 2014 to 25 percent in 2018, comparable to the national unemployment rate for the 4th quarter of 2017 (18.5 percent). The unemployment rate is 23 percent for refugee men and 46 percent for women (the female unemployment rate has been halved since 2014).
  • Profile of employment: Major occupations for men are: craft and trades workers (37 percent), service and sales workers (25 percent), elementary occupations (23 percent), and white-collar workers (5 percent). A substantial share of women work as professionals (11 percent) or associate professionals (5 percent), many in the education sector. The major industries for Syrian refugees are construction (21 percent), manufacturing (18 percent), wholesale and retail trade, and repair of vehicles (17 percent), other services (12 percent) and agriculture (8 percent). Education, health and social work are key sectors for women (25 percent of female employment). Occupations and sectors are comparable to those in Syria before the war, except that in Jordan ‘accommodation and food services’ has absorbed a larger proportion of people and ‘agriculture’ employs relatively fewer people than it used to. Among refugees with work experience in Syria, 11 percent are not currently employed in Jordan. 20 percent of refugees had benefited from short-term contracts from the UN, NGOs etc. (mostly in camps) in the year preceding the survey.
  • Working conditions: One-third of employed refugees report having a valid work permit. Median employment incomes are in the range JD150-250 (highest in Amman; lowest in Mafraq and camps) and increase gradually with educational attainment. Over 70 percent of work being done by refugees can be characterized as temporary, irregular, seasonal and daily labor. Non-pay benefits are rare.
  • Child labor: Approximately 1 percent of children aged 9-14 are employed and another 0.5 percent are both employed and enrolled in school. Incidence of child labor is higher among boys (1.7 percent are employed and not in school; 0.9 percent combine work and school) than girls (of whom 0.3 and 0.1 percent, respectively, do the same). Around 12 percent of Syrian refugee children—boys and girls alike—are neither working nor enrolled in school. More than nine in ten employed children aged 9 to 14 work out of economic need. Mean and median weekly work hours for children aged 9 to 14 are 38 and 30 hours, respectively.
  • Willingness to work in Special Economic Zones: A minority of refugees know about the Special Economic Zones; one-third would accept a job there given the right incentive (pay, travel time).

Return intentions: Looking two years ahead, there are more Syrians who think they will still be in Jordan than there are those who think they will have returned to Syria. Three in ten claim they are considering a move to Europe.