Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

World Day of Social Justice "Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice"


Jordan has long been the recipient of economically and conflict-driven migration flows. Indeed, substantial economic opportunity - particularly in the domestic work, construction, agriculture and manufacturing industries have drawn hundreds of thousands of migrants from across the MENA region and parts of Southern and Southeastern Asia. Meanwhile, protracted conflict in several parts of the world has resulted in Jordan hosting well over 600,000 refugees. While it may not be the principle factor driving their movement, the acquisition of sustainable work is still important for refugees.

In 2018, The World Day of Social Justice theme is Workers on the Move: The Quest for Social Justice. This theme closely aligns with ARDD’s vision of a society where everyone has access to justice, regardless of status. As a critical source of legal aid and information, migrant workers, refugees and especially the women among them, constitute the lion share of ARDD’s beneficiaries. Our interventions related to these marginalized communities are inspired by human-rights based approaches aimed at enhancing the recognition and protection of their rights and dignity.

In Jordan, there are a number of challenges for migrant workers and refugees. The aim of this post, then, is to bring to the forefront these issues, as well offer means by which the Government of Jordan (GoJ), and its partners in civil society can enhance the rights of migrant workers in Jordan.

Migrant Workers: The Need for Dignified Lives

Jordan’s sponsorship (kefala) system is among the most pressing challenges for migrant workers in Jordan. Under this system, workers’ ability to work is linked to a single employer, with little or no ability of switch, leaving workers at the mercy of their employers. While in a significant number of cases, workers are treated well, grave violations of their rights and dignity are not uncommon. Such violations include (but are not limited to): lengthy working hours with no compensation, withholding of wages, confiscation of passports and summary deportation. Indeed 2011, Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights received 690 complaints of passport withholding, and just over 230 cases of physical abuse, among other rights violations (Tamkeen, 2011).

Despite clarity in the law on the illegality of such matters, migrant workers often lack the power necessary to report such mistreatment, or receive just outcomes. In the case of domestic workers for example, some employers respond to reports of mistreatment by falsely accusing workers of stealing. Prejudice, a lack of connections, or evidence to the contrary often results in migrant workers’ imprisonment

Refugees and Asylum Seekers: In Pursuit of Gainful Employment

Among the foremost challenges for refugees in Jordan is the fact the Jordan is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. So far, the GoJ has also not enacted domestic legislation concerning the treatment of refugee in Jordan only few articles in different laws. Still, the GoJ, has made some efforts to protect refuges by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UNHCR. While the MoU does include the provision of non-refoulment, it is missing other important provisions which are present in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

There are a number of protection concerns for Jordan’s refugees, particularly in the area of obtaining dignified work. Only Syrian refugees are permitted to obtain formal employment, and even still, in limited sectors through easing procedures to obtain a work permit. The limited ability of refugees to work presents a nearly insurmountable challenge for refugees to achieve any semblance of security. While the services of UNHCR and its partners (such as ARDD) are accessible to all refugees, they remain insufficient. Recognizing these challenges, the Government of Jordan – to much acclaim – waived the fees for Syrians to apply for work permits. Despite this, a number of challenges still discourage Syrians from taking advantage of the fee waiver.

These challenges affect both Syrians and potential employers. Many Syrians are currently unaware of the process for obtaining a work permit. ARDD’s research has found that some Syrians believe that they must pay as much as 1,000 JD to obtain a work permit, or that by obtaining a work permit they will no longer be able to obtain services from UNHCR, or be resettled. While neither of these are true, serious awareness-raising campaigns are still necessary in order to ensure that Syrians have access to relevant information about work permits.

Employers are equally uncertain about the process to facilitate Syrians’ acquisition of work permits. There is a host of documentation to complete and procedures to navigate, which can all be timely and expensive - constituting a serious disincentive for employers to hire Syrians. Another challenge employers encounter is Jordanian law which stipulates that for every Syrian employed, a certain number of Jordanians must also be hired. This could mean that an employer must hire more Jordanians in order to hire a single Syrian, a cost that could be too high to bear.

Another challenge stems from the limited number of sectors in which Syrians are permitted to work, resulting in a number of individuals taking up work in areas where they have either no interest or relatively little experience. Over a long enough period of time, this has the potential to lead to “de-skilling” of refugees whereby they lose the specialized skills necessary to perform their jobs. De-skilling is particularly important because – ideally – Syrians will eventually return to Syria; however, the successful rebuilding of Syria requires skilled employment.

Further, just 5% of the work permits issued to Syrians were obtained by women. A significant factor contributing to this is societal norms in which the responsibility to generate income is largely prescribed to men (and boys). The realities of conflict, however, have resulted in a number of now female-headed households and many women are now responsible for generating income. Nevertheless, security concerns, a (real or perceived) lack of skills, and judgment from other community members are all reasons women cited for not pursuing or obtaining work.

Looking Forward

ARDD welcomes this timely and relevant theme for World Social Justice Day. It is important to discuss today, and every day, the plight of migrant workers and refugees, and how to expand the recognition and protection of their human rights and dignity. The conversation is started, but important action in Jordan is necessary:

  1. The Government of Jordan should ratify the 1951 Convention on Refugees, one of the strongest instruments outlining the rights, responsibilities and privileges of refugees.
  2. Establish a national law on refugees that aligns with the principles of the 1951 convention and fully protects the rights and dignity of refugees.
  3. The GoJ must modify the sponsorship system so as to allow employees more freedom to switch between employers in the case of mistreatment or abuse.
  4. Reports of mistreatment must be seriously investigated regardless of the legal status of the complainant.
  5. Expand the provision of legal aid and information. It is important that awareness-raising campaigns are substantially enhanced to ensure that refugees have access to critical information.
  6. Further outreach, capacity building, training, psychosocial support services, and legal awareness-raising for women are all necessary in order to help increase the number of women finding safe employment as well as claiming their rights in the face of mistreatment.
  7. Allow migrant workers to join trade unions and establish their own trade unions.


Related Project: