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On Migration Policy and Jordan

Earlier in July I was invited to take part in a policy seminar on Refugee and Migration Issues in Jordan, thanks to the federally-funded Gilman program. The trip was supported by the US Department of State and hosted in Amman by the Fulbright Commission and Jordan Language Academy. About 30 of us were selected to spend a jam-packed week listening to and discussing with Jordanian civil society, the private and public sector, and meeting with refugees and asylum seekers from diverse backgrounds.

The group at Jordan Fulbright Offices

Having long tracked the migration and refugee situation in Turkey, on the northern side of the Syrian border, I was interested to learn about the political and social climate in Jordan. One of the challenges which has stuck with me–in reflecting on my own experience working with asylum seekers in the UK, Turkey and and the US–is how, in the name of protectionism, immigration systems limit options for livelihoods and integration.

Water station at the Zaatari refugee camp. Water scarcity is one of the biggest issues facing Jordan.

In Jordan, there are restrictions on the type of jobs which non-citizens can hold (essentially to hospitality, construction, agriculture). This gives refugees and most immigrants no chance to convert their professional experience to the local market, nor any hope of getting commensurate employment with a degree. Due to a tight job market and high unemployment, chances of economic mobility are pretty much out of the question without Jordanian citizenship. In addition, registering with UNHCR stipulates asylum seekers must not work. If they are caught working illegally, they face arrest, prosecution and potentially deportation.

Visiting the NGO Collateral Repair Project

Spending time with local organisations which are pushing for creative ways to uplift and advocate for refugees in Jordan felt like an antidote to this. Amala Education, where we spent a great evening hanging out with the students (including learning how to dance the dabke) offers young refugees free internationally-recognized high school diploma and ethical leadership programs. Sawiyan, another Amman-based organization, supports marginalized refugees, particularly from Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, with advocacy, English courses, community building and needs assistance. Small organizations, in the face of hostile immigration policies, and the constant pinch of capacity and decreasing funding, never cease to inspire me.

An evening with Amala Education (after an impromptu dance party and storytelling session)

I will be thinking a lot about this week in Amman and the wonderful people I met there. I will also be thinking about how, even in the harshest climate, people find ways to speak up against a system which is truly stacked against them. I will also be thinking about how the transition from ‘temporary’ to ‘long-term’, and from ‘emergency’ to ‘status quo’, seems to be one of the most complicated learning curves of our time.

And also I will be thinking about this kunafa...

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