AMMONNEWS - The social and economic repercussions of hosting refugees in Jordan requires all stakeholders to enhance cooperation in addressing challenges and tensions, economists said on Tuesday.
Ahmad Qatanani, an economist and former Prime Ministry consultant, called for developing a comprehensive socioeconomic plan, in partnership with the private sector and donor countries, to enhance Jordan’s economy mainly by encouraging investments.
The Kingdom has secured 60 per cent of the funding required under the 2016 Jordan Response Plan to the Syrian crisis — double what was obtained in each of the previous three years, according to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.
Qatanani elaborated that encouraging more investments in qualified industrial zones will generate more job opportunities for young Jordanians and refugees, and would “turn tense competition into fruitful cooperation”.
Citing youth unemployment figures in Jordan reaching 25 per cent, the economist suggested the “gradual” replacement of guest workers from various nationalities with Syrians, saying that this would enhance the economy, as they spend their income in Jordan and do not transfer money to their home countries.
Although Jordan received refugees from Palestine in 1948 and 1967 and from Iraq in 2003, the ongoing Syrian crisis has exacerbated the refugee issues, said Qatanani, who is also a former director of the Department of Palestinian Affairs, at a session organised by the Arab Thought Forum (ATF).
These waves of refugees have put pressure on the already limited water sources, as well as educational and health services, he explained, adding that the Jordanian government has provided for refugees whenever the international community failed to offer financial support.
The influx of some 1.4 million Syrians into the Kingdom over the past few years has increased water consumption by 40 per cent and has taken up half of the Health Ministry’s JD350 million annual allocations.
Qatanani cited studies showing that over 166,000 jobs are illegally occupied by Syrians in Jordan, and that each refugee costs $3,000 annually.
Difficult economic conditions trigger “competition on the limited available resources” between citizens in host communities and refugees in Mafraq and Irbid cities, and contribute to more devastation, he argued.
In order to address current economic challenges, more efforts are needed to attract investments into Jordan, such as reforming taxation regulations, supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises and strengthening private-public partnerships, ATF Secretary General Mohammad Abu Hammour said.
The former finance minister noted that natural population growth in Jordan is around 2.1 per cent, while over the past four years, unnatural growth related to the influx of Syrian refugees reached 5 per cent.
With a total population growth of 7.1 per cent and economic growth of 2-2.5 per cent, living standards have dropped by 5 per cent, he said, referring to high unemployment and dependency rates.
Abu Hammour, citing international statistics on refugees, said that on average, a refugee remains displaced for an entire generation (20-25 years), noting that the “majority of Iraqi refugees in the Kingdom are well-off, while the majority of Syrians who sought refuge in Jordan live in difficult economic conditions”.
Since the end of the Syrian crisis is “unpredictable”, Qatanani said Jordan has to come up with plans to deal with the refugee crisis on the short, medium and long term.