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Jordanian reversal on Syrian work permits starts to bear fruit

In a sun-baked field just outside the Jordanian city of Ramtha, a young group of Syrian men and women weave their way up and down rows of green peppers.
Refugees have long been working illegally on farms in Jordan but risked being deported back to Syria if they were caught.
Now they can get free work permits.
More than 650,000 Syrians are registered as refugees in Jordan. However, until recently, the government allowed only a few thousand to work.
It was worried they would push down wages, take jobs from Jordanians and be encouraged to stay permanently, stirring up resentment.
Now the authorities are experimenting with another possibility – that the presence of so many Syrians could boost the sluggish economy.
About 350 Syrians work for al-Rahman Farms.
Syrians at the farm come from a nearby refugee camp. They are given breakfast and work for an hourly rate of one dinar. Mr Alzoubi is convinced it is a win-win situation.
From challenge to chance
The reversal of Jordanian policy was announced at a conference on Syria for international donors in London in February.
European leaders pledged to ease trade regulations in return.

Last month, a key deal was reached to simplify the so-called rules of origin for Jordanian factories exporting to the European Union.
It allows more imported raw materials to be used in finished products that are labelled as Jordan-made, so they get duty-free access to EU markets.
There are quotas for the numbers of Syrians that businesses must employ.

Raising standards
Jordan’s economy is currently growing at just 2.4% a year. It has suffered from a loss of trade with its war-torn neighbours, Syria and Iraq and there is high national debt.
Now it is being offered international support to turn things around.
The World Bank has already announced a $100m interest-free loan. Next month it is expected to announce a $300m programme to attract investment, reform the labour market and create jobs.
The target is for Jordan to employ 200,000 Syrians.
The EU, in particular, wants more refugees to work; it hopes that by improving their living standards, they will be less likely to head for European shores.
Donors also want to reduce dependence on handouts.
Funds pledged for some 4.7 million Syrians now living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey has consistently fallen short of targets. Last year’s influx of hundreds of thousands to Europe partly resulted from cuts to food aid and cash payments.

‘Not enough’
So far some 20,000 work permits have been given out in Jordan. Syrian refugees are happy to have them but many say it will take more to improve their lot.
In Amman, I meet a middle-aged carpenter who asks us not to give his name. He is making high-end, custom-made furniture as he once did for his family’s shops in Homs.
However, in Jordan, he can be paid only the minimum wage. His permit describes him as doing a different, low-skilled job.

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