Drivers of Syrian refugee onward migration from Jordan to Europe


What are the main drivers of onward migration of Syrian refugees from Jordan to Europe?


This helpdesk report discusses the main drivers of Syrian refugee onward movement from Jordan to Europe. They include:

Limited livelihood opportunities: Syrian refugees were largely prevented from accessing Jordan’s formal labour market from 2011 to 2015 (Lenner and Schmelter, 2016). Lack of livelihood opportunities has contributed to poverty and hardship (DRC, 2016; REACH, 2016; Edwards, 2015) – and is a key motivator for onward movement (DRC, 2016). In the absence of access to formal work, many refugees have had to resort to informal, irregular employment, where they run the risk of labour exploitation without legal recourse (ACAPS, 2016; Groth, 2016; Lenner and Schmelter, 2016; REACH, 2016; Edwards, 2015; Care, 2014). Refugees caught working illegally in Jordan may also face sanctions, including fines, detention, being returned to a camp or even deported to Syria (Groth, 2016; Lenner and Schmelter, 2016; Edwards, 2015). The Jordanian government committed at the February 2016 donors conference in London to facilitate the access of Syrian refugees to the labour market in Jordan (Lenner and Schmelter, 2016). Despite this policy change, refugees continue to face barriers in accessing formal work opportunities (Ibid).

High cost of living, depleted resources and poverty: Over 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the national poverty line (Groth, 2016, p. 7). Poverty is a key motivation of onward migration (Grandi, 2016). Given the high costs of living in Jordan and restricted access of refugees to legal employment, refugees are struggling to pay rent, feed their families and cover their basic needs (DRC, 2016; Habersky, 2016; Edwards, 2015). The inability of Syrian refugees in Jordan to provide for their family was the most common reason cited by people who knew someone who had left (Edwards, 2015).

Aid shortfalls: Aid programmes for Syrian refugees and the host community in Jordan have experienced chronic funding shortages, making it difficult for organisations to meet even the most basic needs (Grandi, 2016; Edwards, 2015). These funding shortfalls are identified by refugees as a cause of desperation and a key driver of onward movement (Grandi, 2016; Edwards, 2015). In particular, food aid cuts have been pinpointed by many refugees as the ‘last straw’ in their decision to leave Jordan (Edwards, 2015).

Status issues, lack of free movement, protection and access to services: Since 2014, Syrian refugees have experienced greater constraints in movement. The government has forcibly returned residents to refugee camps from urban areas (Francis, 2015), and controls over refugee 3 camp residents have been tightened (Lenner and Schmelter, 2016). Refugees who left camps unofficially have faced restrictions in the acquisition of government cards required to access services, possible relocation to camps and risk of deportation to Syria (Ibid; Francis, 2015). Residency issues are a key cause of growing desperation among refugees (Hartberg, 2016). Untreated health issues, stemming for loss of free access to healthcare services, are another motivator for onward movement to Europe (DRC, 2016).

Limited educational opportunities: It is reported that approximately 40 per cent of Syrian children in Jordan do not have access to formal education, and many of those who do face difficult classroom environments (Culbertson et al., 2016, p. 3 and 19). Limited educational opportunities are considered to be one of the main motivations for making the onward journey to Europe (DRC, 2016; Grandi, 2016; Edwards, 2016). Lack of classroom space in local schools, cost of school materials and growing poverty among refugees – resulting in children being pulled out of school to work – are key factors that limit access to education (Laub and Akour, 2016; Groth, 2016; Edwards, 2015; Care, 2014). Since February 2016, the government of Jordan has committed to make room for all refugee children in its schools, but this can only be achieved if donors and international organisations fulfil their financial commitments (Laub and Akour, 2016).

Tense community relations and loss of dignity: The treatment of Syrians as ‘temporary’ visitors has undermined the coming together of a community (MercyCorps, 2012). The Jordanian government has increasingly attributed economic problems to Syrian refugees (ACAPS, 2016). While these views do not necessarily reflect the reality, they have adversely influenced host communities’ perceptions of the refugee population, damaging social cohesion (ACAPS, 2016; REACH, 2016). The greater demands placed on services by the refugee influx has also aggravated tensions between refugees and host communities (ACAPS, 2016). Some Syrian informants cited ill-treatment and lack of dignity experienced in Jordan as a motivator to leave the country (DRC, 2016; Lyngstad, 2015).

Loss of hope and pessimism about the future: Although Syrian refugees have expressed a desire to return to Syria, the ongoing conflict – without any sign of abating – is resulting in loss of hope in being able to return in the short to mid-term (DRC, 2016; Lyngstad, 2015; Edwards, 2015). Refugees do not see a prosperous future in either Syria or Jordan (Lyngstad, 2015). Syrian focus group participants and household interviewees stated that they are reluctantly choosing to move onward to Europe (DRC, 2016).

Pull of Europe and experience of others: Many Syrian refugees are turning to Europe, attracted by its reputation for respecting human rights and the rule of law and its greater levels of prosperity (Groth, 2016). A key expectation and motivation for onward migration to Europe is obtaining respect and dignity (DRC, 2016). Other expectations include: the legal right to work along with viable livelihoods; access to education and health care; security; and greater humanitarian assistance (Ibid). Refugees, whose community members have successfully arrived in Europe, expressed an increased desire for onward migration to Europe (Ibid).


Suggested citation

Haider, H. (2016). Syrian refugee onward migration from Jordan to Europe. K4D Helpdesk Research Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.