The Proliferation of Border Practices toward Syrian Refugees in Jordan: a Case Study in Mafraq and Amman

Par Daman Singh – tiré du Mémoire écrit en 2021 dans le cadre du Master II “MIM”


Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, a large number of refugees have found shelter in Jordan and in many other neighbouring countries. Contrary to general belief, nowadays lessthan 20% of the Syrian population live within refugee camps. Of the remaining 80%, the majority live in the three main Governorates of Northern Jordan: Amman, Mafraq and Irbid (Stave and Hillesund, 2015: 6). In less than a decade the population in the cities at least doubled, causing serious implications on the already fragile situation in terms of water scarcity, unemployment, overpopulation and so on and so forth. When Syrians arrived in cities, the host contexts were already struggling with various social and economic problems, and it is easy to imagine the negative impact on city services that the influx of people has caused. In some circumstances, the Jordanian authorities and local population’s response was unsatisfactory, resulting in the growth of border practices toward Syrians. We’ll look at a few of them in this piece, which is an excerpt from a master’s thesis.

Research question

The research question I tried to answer is as follows: do Syrian refugees in Jordan cope with bordering practices? If the answer is yes, then where? In which life’s aspects? How do they function and how do they react? With what consequences? Who benefits from it?
For border practices or bordering practices, the spotlight is not purely in the borderlands. Instead, the priority is placed within national borders in people’s everyday lives. Indeed, Critical Border Studies have moved away from the simple and static idea of border and approach the concept of border practices. This means dwelling on the dynamics and practices within society that in some way act as borders.

Key findings

The study is the result of a literature review on the one hand, and on the other, of a fieldwork in Mafraq and Amman from March to June 2021. During the fieldwork 16 interviews, plus a focus group with two people were conducted with both Syrian and Jordanian populations in the two cities. Based on the analysis of the latter, the study has come up with the following key findings.

First of all, housing is a key problem for all refugees in Jordan. Regarding Syrians, 20% have been living in refugee camps. This means that 20% of the population could not even access the possibility of finding a home outside the refugee camps. The remaining 80% found it extremely difficult to find an apartment in the city due to the high number of immigrants, which resulted in rent increases of five to six times the initial price. Moreover, there was already a shortage of available housing in the cities in the North (A. Al Husban, A. Al Husban, and N. Al-Betawi, 2019: 106). Despite the programs and the funds established by the international community, the interviews with the local community and the Syrian population have shown that access to housing is one of the major problems. Access to education has also shown its limitations, the first of which is the setting up of a second shift solely for Syrian refugees. In fact, if on the one hand this might be accepted as a temporary measure, in the long run it may have disastrous consequences on the education of Syrian children. In particular, the interviews showed that the Syrian shift is of lower quality than the Jordanian one. Two of the main issues are, one, the shorter class time and, second, the quality of teaching since professors are not required to pass the national competition. The following is simply an illustration of what I was informed about:

“I was an education assistant for the United Nations, the UNHCR for about a year. That is actually why I left the U.N… So, we worked with the schools and I can tell you for a fact: the morning shift, the Jordanian shift, had, the primary teachers, the good management as we called it and the proper principle. The evening shift, the afternoon shift actually, is for Syrians who had part-time teachers, retired principals, completely inadapt and unqualified teachers. Corporal punishment… To be fair, corporal punishment is used even with Jordanian children, the difference is that with Jordanian children they are careful. With Syrians, they didn’t give a fuck. They treated them like shit and the ministry did nothing”.

(Karim, Mafraq)

In addition, another matter concerns the continuation of higher education since Syrian refugees are forced to start working at a young age. In this specific case, education is linked to work opportunities. It is difficult for parents to invest in their children’s education since they will not have the right to practice their profession in the country after completing their studies. A final barrier to education relates to the ongoing global pandemic especially for children in refugee camps. As a matter of fact, the lack of connectivity and informatic tools has reduced attendance at online courses. To conclude, Amman is not restricting access to secondary and university studies, nevertheless the large majority of Syrian refugees in Jordan stopped their studies due to various circumstances: Family financial problems, fundings focused on primary education, child labour and limitations on the type of work Syrians areallowed to practice, are among the main causes leading to school drop-outs. The context does not encourage further education, on the contrary, it discourages the access to further studies. Access to work is of significant importance considering that some Syrian refugees have been in the country for nearly 10 years. The biggest border practice concerns the fact that Syrians have the right to work only in certain sectors in Jordan. As a result, Syrians represent the
labor force in sectors where Jordanians don’t want to do anymore, i.e. heavy, precarious and low-paid jobs. As a result, the majority of the Syrian population works in the informal economy without any kind of social protection as highlighted by Omar:

“We had no choice, we started working. Khaled [his brother] started working in a supermarket and I started working in a mini cafè. They gave me like 3 JD [meaning about 3.50€] per day. We had to, we have a family here. We just work whatever we catch. I got caught, my brother Khaled got caught as well. We were taken to the police station and we made a sign that we would no longer work [without a permit]”

(Omar, Mafraq)

Moreover, I perceived that Syrians commonly accept to do unqualified jobs to survive even though they have higher qualifications. This is due to the fact that some sectors are closed for Syrian refugees and therefore indicates that they suffer from downward social mobility. Another area the study focused on is the access to health given that the context from which Syrian refugees arrive is a war context. From interviews conducted towards Syrians, affordability is the biggest issue related to access to health. It would seem that among the
various reasons, affordability is always included in the participants’ considerations when talking about health. Especially since 2014, where the cost of health services has increased compared to the period 2012-2014 where they were receiving free public health care (A. Tiltnes, Zhang and Pederson, 2019: 67). The last point which I consider useful to discuss is the ambiguity of the Refugee Status in Jordan. On the one hand Syrians grant the status but on the other, they are not officially recognized as refugees and cannot even truly seek refuge in other countries. The only chance to obtain refugee status is through the resettlement program but it doesn’t involve a large component of the Syrian population.

As a direct result, only 666.692 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR on May 31, 2021, despite the fact that the 2015 national census estimated 1.26 million Syrian refugees in Jordan (Operational Data Portal, 2021). These figures show that only half of the Syrian population in Jordan is actually registered with UNHCR. To sum up, the research’s overall goal was to be included in Critical Border Studies (CBS) by widening the notion of bordering practices in the context of a case study of Syrian refugees inJordan. Within this context, housing, education, health care, and refugee status are all in insufficient supply, and, as a result, Syrian refugees have been subjected to bordering practices since their arrival in Jordan.


Stave, Svein E., and Hillesund Solveig. 2015. Impact of Syrian refugees on the Jordanian labour market, Findings from the governorates of Amman, Irbid and Mafraq. Geneva: International Labor Organization and Fafo.

A. Tiltnes, Age, Zhang Huafeng, and Pederson Jon. 2019. “The living conditions of Syrian refugees in Jordan Results from the 2017-2018 survey of Syrian refugees inside and outside camps.” Fafo Report, (April), 1-174.

Al-Husban, Ahmad, A. Al Husban Safa, and Al-Betawi Yamen N . 2019. “Assessing the impact of urban Syrian refugees on the urban fabric of Al Mafraq city architecturally and socially.” International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment 10 (May):99-129. 10.1108/IJDRBE-09-2018-0039.

UNHCR. 2021. Operational Data Portal – Refugee Situation.


– Interviewee Mr. Karim, double nationality: Jordanian and Syrian, Education Assistant and Refugees Status Determination assistant of the Resettlement programme

– UNHCR in Mafraq and in Zaatari camp, Al Mafraq city, April 2021

– Interviewee Mr. Omar, unemployed, Syrian, Al Mafraq city, May 2021

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
Assaf Dahdah (4 janvier 2022). The Proliferation of Border Practices toward Syrian Refugees in Jordan: a Case Study in Mafraq and Amman. Entre business mondialisé et pratiques localisées. Consulté le 23 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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