More than 500,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since the onset of the conflict in their country more than two years ago, according to the Amman government and the United Nations — a figure equal to nearly one-tenth of Jordan’s population. While 160,000 are housed in refugee camps, Saad and the vast majority have been living in cities, where their presence is stoking tensions with an increasingly resentful host community and posing what Jordanian officials call one of the greatest crises the country has faced in decades.
Jordanian government officials say the cost of hosting the rapidly growing refugee population is expected to reach $1 billion this year. Yet the true cost of hosting the refugees, who compete with Jordanians for jobs and limited housing, is far broader, economic experts say.
The state-run Economic and Social Council says that due to electricity and water subsidies, each Syrian who crosses into Jordan directly costs the government about $3,000 annually. The Health Ministry says it spends half of its budget on medical care for Syrians alone and needs about $350 million in emergency funding to sustain the country’s public-health-care system past this month.
According to the Labor Ministry, about 160,000 Syrians are working illegally in Jordan, accepting lower pay to fill positions in bakeries, auto garages and cafes that were once held by Jordanians, about 20 percent of whom are unemployed.
“You walk into a bakery, there are Syrians; you walk into a factory, there are Syrians,” said Mohammed Mashagbeh, 35, a Jordanian carpenter who said he left Mafraq after losing work to Syrians and now lives in the capital, Amman, where he earns half his previous wages. “There is no longer room in Jordan for Jordanians.”
The kingdom has long served as an oasis for those displaced by the various wars that have wracked the region, and it is home to more than 1.8 million Palestinian and 500,000 Iraqi refugees. But unlike their Palestinian and Iraqi predecessors, the bulk of Syrians who have flooded Jordan hail from rural regions and are under-skilled and poorly educated, arriving with limited funds and placing an immediate burden on the government’s social services, economic experts say.
“In many ways, while Iraqis came to Jordan with investments and were effectively job creators, Syrians are arriving as job-
takers,” says Jawad Anani, economist and president of the Economic and Social Council. Many Jordanian business owners dispute that, saying that Syrians take work that Jordanians do not want and that they work harder.