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Jordan demands Syrians obtain work permits, but work permits illegal for Syrians

October 23, 2013

By Abdulrahman al-Masri and Kristen Gillespie

This is the first of a two-part series investigating the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

AMMAN: Syrian refugees expressed dismay on Wednesday over a recent decision by Jordan’s Labor Ministry requiring Syrians and other non-Jordanians working illegally in the kingdom to obtain work permits or else face deportation.

“We don’t want to be illegal workers, but they are not giving work permits to Syrians,” said Hassan, 19, who works under the table in a computer repair shop in Amman. “How can a Syrian work legally if he can’t get a work permit?” he asked.

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UNHCR tents and makeshift shelters for Syrians are springing up around Jordan. Photo courtesy of The Jordan Times.

 The Labor Ministry has arrested 15,800 illegal foreign workers in Jordan since the beginning of the year, Labor Minister Nabil al-Qatamain said in a statement carried on the state media agency, Petra, on Monday. More than 5,700 of the detainees are Syrian, Petra reported. Al-Qatamain did not address how Syrian refugees in Jordan could rectify their employment status when it is illegal for them to obtain work permits.

Illegal workers “will be deported starting November 11 unless they obtain required permits and legalize their situations,” al-Qatamain said. It was not immediately clear when the detained Syrians had arrived in Jordan.

At least one international rights organization said it would investigate allegations of possible deportations of illegal workers back to Syria.

“Jordan should not return anyone, including Syrians, to somewhere threatening their life or freedom,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) research Adam Coogle told Syria Direct on Wednesday. HRW will investigate the allegations of possible deportation of Syrians, Amman-based Coogle said, “and press the Jordanian government to end threats of deportation back to the Syrian war zone.”

It is the paradox of the Arab host country that accepts thousands of refugees. They may stay, but not work. An estimated 550,000 Syrians have been added to Jordan’s 6.2 million population since 2011, and as a return home seems distant, they are legally not able to work.

“If we stopped working, how will people live?” asked Moatasim, 26, who works in an Amman café. Jordanian law enforcement officials have already raided the café twice, said Moatasim, adding that he managed to escape both times before being caught.

“Every day I hear from my friends or see myself that they are taking Syrians working in restaurants because they don’t have work permits,” Moatasim said.

Jordanian authorities have arrested 494 Syrians working illegally this month alone, the official agency Petra reported. In a separate report on Tuesday, Petra noted that the Jordanian government has made nearly $88 million in foreign workers’ permits and related fees this year.

“The solution is to allow Syrians to work legally, and then I can do my job without having to worry about fleeing the authorities,” Moatasim said.