Planning a sustainable settlement solution for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Shalan, Muna; Pfaffenbach, Carmella Diana (Thesis advisor); Ley, Astrid (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2019, 2020)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, RWTH Aachen University, 2019


Since the onset of the war in Syria in 2011, Jordan has been hosting refugees who fled violence in their home country. Jordan as a country of scarce natural resources and a struggling economy had to address further challenges that resulted from the refugee presence. Given that the refugee presence has evolved into a protracted situation, an increasing pressure is facing the economy, public infrastructure and social services in refugee-populated regions of Jordan. Against this reality, a strategic shift from mere humanitarian response to phased development rhetoric has been witnessed in the country’s response approach towards the crisis, resulting in the Jordan Compact agreement between the government of Jordan and the international community. International experience in the field of refugee response has indeed proven that central actors engaged in devising response mechanisms have to recognize that displacement is to be treated as a fully-fledged development challenge in order to adequately address the refugees’ needs in their host country. For example, central actors should devise response mechanisms to facilitate refugees’ access to the formal labor market, public services, and adequate housing. Nevertheless, response planning that is based on a development schemes usually gets entangled with economic and urban challenges that existed prior to the refugee crisis in the host country. In Jordan, the faltering implementation of development-based response interventions has revealed the need to resolve pre-existing challenges that permeate the economy, labor market and municipal public services. On that premise, this dissertation investigated the complex conditions of devising and implementing response interventions that aimed at enhancing Syrian refugee livelihoods while supporting the development interests of Jordan. The main research question answered in the dissertation is “How can a sustainable settlement solution for Syrian refugees in Jordan be achieved in light of the development-based response approach?” From a methodological standpoint, the research derived primary data from semi-structured interviews conducted with key informants representing Jordanian national and municipal authorities, aid and development organizations as well as representatives of the private sector and research institutions. In addition, semi-structured interviews conducted with Syrian refugee and Jordanian households aimed at exploring their perspectives on the housing and built environment conditions of their settlement settings. Similarly, conducting semi-structured interviews with refugees who benefitted from employment opportunities created by economic response programs has revealed critical insights on the impact of employment on refugees’ livelihoods and the related challenges that they face. The empirical analysis of the dissertation begins by exploring the housing and built environment conditions within the various refugee settlement settings (urban, rural, and camp settings). The analysis revealed that housing adequacy is key to planning a sustainable settlement solution. Competent authorities should therefore recognize its provision as a political objective. With respect to the built environment, access to employment and infrastructural services is more attainable in urban and rural areas than in camps. Meanwhile, the isolation of the refugee camps from their surroundings limited the access of camps’ inhabitants to employment opportunities. Efforts to enhance housing adequacy provision in refugee-populated regions should address the root causes of the current urban distress while envisioning the end value of infrastructural investments in camps in the long-term. The dissertation then progresses into an investigation of the devised economic response mechanisms that aimed at job creation for refugees while tackling structural deficiencies of macrosectors of the economy. This investigation revealed that response measures that aim at reforming national and local economic policies have run up against complex dynamics of development politics and weak economic conditions. As such, the implementation of economic response programs has had a mixed-record and the outcomes have varied. On the one hand, advancements have been achieved with respect to facilitating the access of Syrian refugees to the formal labor market. On the other hand, tackling the root causes of the economic challenges in Jordan lagged behind thus impeding the overall progress of the employment response programs. To avoid being abstracted from reality, central actors should delve into the complex dynamics of the economy in displacement-impacted regions and recognize the labor market conditions. For this purpose, a wide spectrum of response programs and policies are needed. Although small-scale response programs are more cost- and time-efficient, large-scale interventions that aim at structural reform are essential for an impactful job creation in the medium-term. Furthermore, efforts to strengthen inclusive policy-making that incorporates voices of non-state/civil society stakeholders and the private sector play a pivotal role in yielding a rationally evolved response policy. The dissertation also incorporates an analysis of the response interventions that aimed at resolving urban challenges within refugee-populated regions. The analysis focused on the outcomes of the response interventions in terms of enhancing the quality and coverage of the basic infrastructural services as well as addressing the housing needs of the displacement-impacted communities. Delving into the process of planning and implementing the response interventions revealed that it is inherently political. Although the highly-centralized planning system enabled reaching an agreement between Jordan and the international community at a short notice (the Jordan Compact), it turned out to be an impediment to the implementation of some response programs (such as in the case of the Jordan Affordable Housing program). The analysis also revealed that several underdeveloped municipalities have adopted a relatively pragmatic approach towards the implementation of the development-based response interventions. Empowering municipalities to take the lead in terms of local development planning is indeed a vital step towards operationalizing goals for sustainable urban development at the municipal level. In the final part of the empirical analysis, the dissertation explored the perspectives of refugees concerning their employment experiences and their pursuit of self-reliance. An important take away from this analysis is the crucial need to develop context-based solutions, in which central actors do not lose sight of the people-based factors such as refugees’ age, gender, and domestic responsibilities when devising the employment programs. The analysis also revealed that the spatial mismatch is a significant obstacle to the success of refugee employment programs. With an overarching goal of contributing to planning a sustainable settlement solution for Syrian refugees in Jordan, this dissertation ends with a discussion of the research conclusions for optimizing the response practice and its operational approach. The research conclusions target donors, policymakers, researchers and practitioners concerned with devising and implementing response mechanisms in Jordan and other displacement contexts.