The Jordanian Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis from a Resilience Perspective

This is an excerpt from Policy and Politics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Eastern Mediterranean States, edited by Max O. Stephenson Jr. & Yannis A. Stivachtis. You can download the book free of charge from E-International Relations.

The conflict in Syria has been both complex and protracted since it began in March 2011. It caused a severe humanitarian crisis in which many Syrian civilians were killed, disappeared, persecuted, or lost fundamental rights and livelihoods. At the same time, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country, and 6.6 million are internally displaced (OCHR 2020). The initial reasons for their displacement – insecurity, instability, and lack of safety – continue. As the United Nations (UN) has reported, ‘there [have been]regular spikes in violence and continuous violations of human rights across the Syrian Arab Republic’ (UN 2020, 1). The deadly confrontation between pro-government forces and opposition armed groups continues in some locations (Council of EU 2020). Besides security problems, access to livelihoods is limited, the service infrastructure in health, education, sanitation, and housing has not been yet rebuilt (UN 2020, 4). Syria meets neither the safe country standard nor the UNHCR protection threshold (UN 2018, 1).

The Syrian crisis has severely affected neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, because more than five million displaced Syrians sought refuge there. More than 662,700 Syrian refugees are officially registered in Jordan by the UNHCR (JRP 2020–22, 5). According to the Jordanian government, Syrians’ total numbers with unregistered ones are around 1.3 million (King Abdullah II 2018a). Approximately 10 per cent of them live inside refugee camps, while the rest are distributed principally across the urban areas, mainly in Amman, Mafraq, Irbid and Zarqa Governorates (JRP 2020–22, 5).

Jordan has a long-term reputation for hosting refugees with the historical experience of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. More than two million registered Palestine refugees have lived in Jordan for decades, with the support of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) (UNRWA 2020, 1). Jordan also hosts thousands of refugees from other countries, including Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia (UNHCR 2019, 1). Despite the country’s substantial experience in refugee-hosting, the Kingdom has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, hence it has is no legal obligation to provide long term protection to any refugee group, including Syrians. It has closely cooperated with UNRWA, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and donor countries to maintain humanitarian assistance and protection services in protracted refugee situations such as those of the Iraqis and Syrians (Achilli 2015; Schimmel 2015).

In the last five years, Jordan has increasingly used the concept of resilience in framing its refugee response and its cooperation with external actors. This interest in resilience also reflects the regional and global paradigm shift in the humanitarian assistance and international development sector and has mainly been tested in the Syrian displacement situation. The organized efforts to coordinate a regional response to Syrian displacement were renamed as the ‘3RP’ – the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plans in 2015. We argue that the concept of resilience increasingly shapes the Jordanian government’s perceptions of refugee governance and turns into a frame of action. Resilience is widely used and attributed to several positive but ambiguous meanings. It simultaneously refers to a pillar of governance along with a humanitarian approach. It is used to emphasize that not only the needs of refugees but also the needs of host communities and the service infrastructure of Jordan.

Resilience is presented as a key characteristic of the refugee support system. Also, resilience is individualized because it is approached as the desired trait of refugees and host communities. It replaced the concept of the development needs of the country. Policy designers aim to invest in and cultivate resilience at macro (e.g., Jordan as a whole), meso (e.g., sectors), and micro levels (e.g., individuals). Resilience is strategically favored because of its potential benefits. First, it enables to claim national ownership in the refugee governance and addresses needs of impacted host communities. Second, through overemphasizing resilience, policymakers appropriate regional and global humanitarian policy shifts towards a long-term self-reliance agenda. Third, the vocabulary further helps to legitimize development support demands by providing evidence. Plans also address donors’ other favorable vocabulary, such as transparency, crisis prevention, and vulnerability assessment. In these ways, resilience discourse allows to avoid refugee flows’ securitization, shows moderate diplomatic tone and cooperation desire of Jordan, unlike blackmailing. Nevertheless, this terminology still suffers from several layers of ambiguity as has also been observed in other contexts (Joseph 2013). Its wide usage raises the question of the resilience for whom and how. It does not settle the balance between the humanitarian needs of refugees and the development needs of host states.

Methodologically, we adopt the qualitative approach to understand both policies and politics from the lenses of resilience. We conduct textual analysis of Jordan’s Response Plans (cited in the reference list as JRP 2016–18; JRP 2017–19; JRP 2018–20; JRP 2020–22). Additionally, we draw from national laws, compiled reports, press releases. We also rely on interviews conducted with multiple stakeholders during the several rounds of field work carried out by both authors since 2015 as well as participatory observations in policy-oriented workshops. To systematically analyze data, we used Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough 2005, 2003) as a method and N-Vivo software as a tool to delve into resilience’s discursive dimension.

The chapter proceeds as follows. Drawing from policymaking and governance literature, it first focuses on resilience as a concept and theoretical framework in addressing refugee situations. Thereafter we present Jordan’s case by discussing the main characteristics of its response to the Syrian refugee flow. That section highlights the government’s policy changes over time. Thereafter, we examine the diverse adoption of the resilience concept in the JRPs and conclude by summarizing our findings.

Literature on Resilience, Policymaking and Governing Refugees

Resilience has been a common concept in policymaking in recent decades, particularly in addressing national and global security challenges, such as climate change (Gaillard 2010), health crises (Elbe 2008), financial and infrastructure collapses (de Goede 2007) and security risks (Longstaff 2005). Analysts have developed the concept of resilience on the assumption that modern systems’ complexity and global interconnectivity make actors such as governments, populations, and systems vulnerable to ‘extreme events’ and unpredictable environments, hence they must develop capacities for qualified swift responses, improvisation, coordination, flexibility, and endurance via resilience building (Comfort et al. 2010; Longstaff 2005). Scholars have considered resilience to be a desired trait, alongside adaptability and transformability in such efforts (Cork 2010).

The term was first used in engineering in 1802 and revived in environmental management science in the 1970s, and then employed in the psychology literature in the 1980s (Holling 1973). After that, social scientist Louise Comfort et al. (2010) adopted the term. International relations and security studies have also welcomed it (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2015, 33; Lundborg and Vaughan-Williams 2011). The concept of resilience made its way into policy studies, particularly those addressing urban, environmental, and financial security issues (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2015; Walker and Cooper 2011). It is widely used in the psychology field, too, because resilience along with coping strategies are treated as a protective factor for displaced people and refugees’ psychological well-being and mental health. Such analyses often focus on individual resilience in which refugees are accorded the principal role in addressing trauma, stress, or mental problems (Arnetz et al. 2013; Montgomery 2010; Schweitzer et al. 2007). Besides individual resilience, community resilience is also used to describe interconnected system networks at grassroots levels (Doron 2005). It is argued that ‘while the resilience of individuals, families or specific organizations are key components of community resilience as a whole, a resilient community is greater than the sum of its parts’ (Fitzpatrich 2016).

International governmental and non-governmental organizations, states, businesses, and some scholars see resilience as an ‘unquestionably “good” value to be striven for, invested in, and cultivated throughout society at whatever cost’ (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2015, 46). It is believed to enable ‘to anticipate and tolerate disturbances … without collapse, withstand shocks, and rebuild as necessary’ (Lentzos and Rose 2009, 34). It implies both narrow and broad meanings. For instance, resilience is treated as a system characteristic and an ‘umbrella concept for a range of system attributes deemed desirable in climate change (Klein et al. 2003, 35). It is also used as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy, such as being observed in disaster management (Norris et al. 2008).

One of the policy fields that extensively embrace the resilience concept is the humanitarian assistance field (Scott-Smith 2018). This field also mainstreamed resilience at practice level, as the term is appreciated in the discourses and action plans of the United Nations (UN) agencies, donors, governments, and (international) non-governmental organizations (I/NGOs). As part of humanitarian assistance, the term gained attraction in responding to displacement situations, mainly offering a paradigmatic shift to the humanitarian aid sector from responding to needs to empowering those affected by crises (Scott-Smith 2018, 662).

Despite positive value attached to resilience in the humanitarian sector, it is widely criticized by scholars on the basis that the term lacks conceptual clarity (Bourbeau 2013; Kaufmann 2013) and serves as a buzzword or empty signifier (Manyena 2006; Weichselgartner and Kelman 2014). As Brassett and Vaughan-Williams point out, while in many respects highly seductive, the concept of resilience remains somewhat abstract – both in theory and practice’ (2015; 46).

The usage of the term has consequences for practices at global and national levels. As Ulrike Krause and Hannah Schmidt (2020, 22) pointed out, ‘global policies designed to promote the self-reliance and resilience of refugees strive to increase their abilities to deal with hardships; in doing so, they rhetorically shift refugees from the category of ‘vulnerable’’ to that of capable actors’. For example, climate change-induced migration, the prior emphasis on risk management emphasis was shifted to resilience. This implied that the responsibility shifts from Western emitters seeking to ‘save’ climate refugees toward the affected populations who are now expected to prepare for the effects of climate change and makes those affected by it responsible for their survival’ (Methmann 2014; Methmann and Oels 2015). Thus, the rise of resilience in the humanitarian sector goes along with depoliticizing the issues causing displacement, such as global warming (Methmann 2014, 416). It is also a way of ‘responsibilizing refugees through humanitarian governance,’ identified as ‘resilience humanitarianism’ (Ilcan and Rygiel 2015, 333). For example, as Anholt and Wagner (2020, 1) noted,

the EU no longer suggests that protracted crises will be overcome tout court. Instead, the EU can only help to cope with them. … Rather than promoting a one-size-fits-all blueprint, resilience suggests an appreciation for local actors and practices.

This shift potentially benefits international actors because,

foregrounding local institutions and their capacities allow[s] international actors to make their local partners responsible for the success of the refugee response, while potentially reducing the focus on their roles in crisis management, and the roles of donor countries in creating those crises (Lenner and Turner 2021, 2).

Against this background, it is worth examining how resilience is adopted at the national levels in responding the mass displacement situations. We look to advance the existing policy and theoretical debate on resilience by offering a rich empirical case study of Jordan’s policy response to Syrian refugees. Through an interpretive analysis, we seek to describe how the long-term policy plans present resilience and the rationalities behind this. We aim to contribute a theory-driven critique of resilience in policy plans concerning the Syrian refugee crisis.

Resilience in the Governance of Syrian Displacement

Resilience concept has been in circulation at the Jordanian policy field since 2013 when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and under the framework of the Regional United Nations Development Group (R-UNDG), a Sub-regional Response Facility was established in Jordan. The aim was to develop a joint response and coordination structure that covered several countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt). The R-UNDG worked closely with humanitarian and development stakeholders and governments to adopt a plan, called Resilience-Based Development Response to the Syria Crisis. The system’s originality was to offer 1) a new programming and organizational framework for integrating humanitarian and development interventions’; 2) expansion of scope of intervention to host communities along with refugees; 3) bringing new partners into the programs such as around the table (private sector, international financial institutions, development funders); and 4) enhancing the role for the governments of hosting refugees, to facilitate national ownership of plans (Gonzalez 2016, 27). Along with these goals, in 2015, the UNHCR expanded the Syrian Regional Response Plan (RRP 2014) to the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, named the 3RP. It is co-led by UNDP and UNHCR. It is participated in by governments of five countries, their line ministries, agencies, and some hundreds of partners, including relevant UN agencies and national and international NGOs (RRRP 2015).

While previous response plans of the UNHCR focused on the humanitarian needs of a Syrian refugee in the neighboring countries, 3RP’s aimed at a more comprehensive approach targeting both refugees and crises affecting host countries. The 3RP’s defined as a strategic, coordination, planning, advocacy, fundraising, and programming platform for humanitarian and development partners to respond to the Syria crisis. It comprises one regional plan, with five country chapters. It has two prominent components: refugees and resilience. The refugee component focuses on the ‘protection and humanitarian assistance needs of refugees while the resilience component emphasizes the resilience, stabilization and development needs of impacted individuals, communities and institutions, aiming to strengthen the capacities of national actors’ (3RP 2020, 1). To this end, 3RPs brought together humanitarian actors and development actors by grouping coordination under sectors and sub-sectors (shelters, WASH, protection, etc.). UN programme, 3RP ‘turned into one of the UN’s biggest humanitarian operations ever realized’ (Diogini 2016, 27). Developmental objectives of host countries are strongly reflected in the 3RPs and their translations into the more specific national Response Plans (3RP 2020). The London Conference–Supporting Syria and the Region in February 2016 gave further momentum to the mainstreaming resilience approach. Besides its mobilization of financial resources, ‘for the first time, a Syria pledging conference was structured around the resilience-building themes of livelihoods and education, with protection as the third one’ (Gonzalez 2016, 27).

It should be noted that the paradigmatic shift in the regional response to Syrian displacement is also a reflection of the governing actors’ positionings and power. The UNDP, which had been active in the region for decades took a decisive role in refugee governance by advocating for ‘integrating short- term emergency measures into a nationally owned and led “fast-track development response”’ (Lenner and Turner 2021, 3). When countries encountered the Syrian mass flow, UNDP strengthened its collaboration with national actors like ministries, municipalities, and trade chambers to support infrastructures under stress in urban spaces including clean water, sewage, shelters, and refugees’ employability by providing vocational education (Mencutek 2018). The UNDP is a well-respected actor in the national countries due to its close cooperation and extensive funding to the national infrastructures. In 3RP, a humanitarian response is coordinated by the UNHCR, whereas the resilience pillar is carried out by the development response led by the UNDP (Anholt 2020, 297).

Despite its popularity in different fields and adoption in policy papers like the regional 3RP Syria crisis and national response plans, resilience still lacks conceptual clarity in the humanitarian action targeting Syrian refugees. In a recent comparative study, Rosanne Anholt (2020, 294) addresses how resilience is differently interpreted and translated by the humanitarian and development practitioners in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. She finds that ‘resilience is translated as the economic self-reliance of refugees, and the capacity for crisis management of refugee-hosting states, enacted through “localization” and strengthening the “humanitarian-development nexus.”’ While Jordan’s response plans strongly emphasize development and the system’s resilience, Lebanon’s plan highlighted social resilience and ‘stabilization’ and resilience (Anholt and Sinatti 2020; Diogini 2016).

Among Syrian hosting countries, Jordan has been the most eager to adopt resilience terminology. It produced the National Resilience Plan 2014–16 and participated in the Regional Response Plans. Jordanian response plan 2015 (JRP 2015) concretized a one-year comprehensive humanitarian and resilience-based response to the Syria crisis. It drafted eight refugee and 11 resilience sector assessments outlining the vulnerabilities, needs and gaps in assistance. For Jordan, ‘resilience-oriented programming has become strongly equated with refugee self-reliance after the 2016 Jordan Compact that permits Syrian refugees formally to work in some selected sectors’ (Lenner and Turner 2021, 5). Also, in 2015, the Jordanian Government, in collaboration with the United Nations, formed the Jordan Resilience Fund to ‘ensure coherence, aid effectiveness and coordinated assistance’ (UNDP 2015, 1). To understand these policy plans, it is necessary first to zoom in on the policy context in Jordan.

Jordan’s Refugee Response: From ad-hoc to Restrictive Policies

When Jordan first encountered the Syrian refugee flow in April 2012, the Jordanian government pursued a hybrid settlement system where camps and self-settlement were allowed (Mencutek 2018, 197). Jordan first limited, and then eventually closed, its borders to arrivals. The restrictions were legitimized by demographic and security concerns in May 2013 because Syrians’ number reached a half million in Jordan and the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014 threatened Jordan. It was suspected that Syrian Salafists could cross Jordan’s border and mix with civil refugees to get support to the rebellion (Mencutek 2018, 218). Jordan also toughened procedures to access services and rights. In 2015, the Jordanian Ministry of Interior, cooperating with the UNHCR, re-registered all Syrians residing outside the camps to issue service/identity residence cards. Without obtaining a verified card, refugees did not have a right to live outside of refugee camps, travel freely, and get a work permit (Ibid., 199). Also, a ‘bailout’ process that allowed refugees to leave camps if they found sponsors, called kafils, was suspended in 2015 (Ibid.). Syrian refugees in Jordan still have an option to leave the camps, but they need a Jordanian guarantor and intense paperwork (Chatty 2016, 35).

Accessing refugees to sustainable livelihoods and their labor market participation has been one of the most critical challenges for Syrians, the host government, and host communities (Sahin-Mencutek and Nashwan 2020a, 2020b), which worsened with the COVID–19 pandemics. Although Syrian refugees in Jordan are only allowed to work if they have a working permit, getting a permit has difficulties due to the bureaucratic hurdles and vast informal sector. Many refugees face risk if they have worked without a permit, locking them into precarity, vulnerability (Ibid.). From 1 January 2016 to 31 January 2020, only 179,445 permits were issued to Syrians in Jordan (Ministry of Labour 2020, 1). Approximately five per cent of them are given to Syrian women (Ibid.,2). There are several restrictions and barriers to finding a job legally. Alternatively, many Syrians work in the informal labor market, which is the place where the highest level of discrimination and exploitation is experienced (Sahin-Mencutek and Nashwan 2020a, b). As in other refugee host contexts, de-qualification refers to the fact that migrants often find jobs that do not match their skills are observable among Syrians in Jordan. The financial problems, mainly not working and limited access to sustainable livelihoods, inevitably create severe poverty among Syrian refugees (Sert 2016). Refugees have been more impoverished than Jordanians before and after the COVID–19 pandemic (World Bank 2020).

For Syrians, the financial problems intersect with the challenges in access to health, residence (scarcity of housing, high rents), and difficulties in access to primary education and dropouts (Doocy, Lyles, Akhu-Zaheya, Burton, and Burnham 2016; Chinnery 2019). As Syrians’ flow into Jordan created an immense burden on the Jordanian health system (Alameddine 2019), initial free access of Syrians to the public health system ceased after a while. Before late 2014, registered Syrians in Jordan could receive full free primary, secondary and some tertiary health care at public facilities, but now they must make co-payments like those required of uninsured Jordanians.

It appears that Jordanians held quite positive attitudes toward Syrian refugees at the societal level at the onset of the Syrian migration. Jordanian society responded to refugees’ needs with generosity, predicated on their religious and cultural affinity (Alrababa’h et al. 2020). Over time, the support for Syrians has waned, and there has been a widespread perception that Syrians’ presence negatively affects Jordanian communities, particularly the already strained labour market and public services (health, water, education) (Kvittingen et al. 2019). Nevertheless, few studies provide empirical evidence that ‘neither personal-nor community-level exposure to the refugee crisis’ economic impact is associated with anti-migrant sentiments among natives’ (Alrababa’h, et al. 2020).

Jordanian formal response to the Syrian refugee flow has inevitably been linked to the complex web of domestic and regional political dynamics concerning Jordanian elites and hosting communities at a policy level. More specifically, the perceptions and realities about security challenges, demographic balance and national economic development reflect on Jordanian restrictive policy choices over time (Mencutek 2020). Nevertheless, the policies are very receptive to the international dynamics and donor’s frameworks, since Jordan used to be refugee rentier state (Tsourapas 2019).

Development and Resilience Focus in Jordan’s Refugee Governance

From the start of the Syrian crisis, the Government of Jordan has consistently highlighted the mounting cost of hosting refugees as well as the Syrian crisis’ adverse impact on the Jordanian economy (Nasser and Symansky 2014). The Government proposes that hosting Syrian refugees constitutes a global public good and it has therefore been willing to shoulder the responsibility of doing so. Nonetheless, it follows as King Abdullah II reiterated in a speech to the General Assembly of the UN in 2018:

As many of you know, Jordan has carried a massive, disproportionate burden as a refugee host. Our people have opened their homes, schools, public services, hospitals. We have shared our country’s scarce resources, our food and energy, our precious water. The crisis has held back economic growth and job creation, jobs urgently needed by our young people, more than 60 per cent of our population. Jordanians have borne this refugee burden in full accord with our country’s long humanitarian traditions, but we know, and the world knows, that this crisis is a global responsibility. The sacrifices we and other host countries make every day can only continue if donor nations hold up their side of the partnership. That means continued, multi-track efforts in development support and humanitarian assistance; efforts which not only prepare refugees to return home and rebuild their countries, but also give hope to the people of host countries, who have sacrificed so much (King Abdullah II 2018b).

Several academics have also argued that ‘the latest wave of refugees from Syria put extra pressure on the Jordanian population’ along with the fact that ‘Jordan is a small country situated in a turbulent region’ (Alshoubaki 2020). The strained infrastructure and public services are perceived as a significant risk that might hamper Jordan’s development trajectory and ‘relatively stable economic and social landscape’ (JRP 2020–22, 1). Thus, Jordan calls not only for humanitarian assistance but also for development aid, requiring the support of strained infrastructure and vulnerable host communities. King Abdullah II’s speech was illustrative in this regard:

Our economy has faced significant challenges over the past decade. In doing the right thing for desperate refugees, Jordan’s own people have paid an enormous price, and we are working closely with international partners to increase help for refugees and host communities alike. (King Abdullah II 2019)

These high-level official speeches mainly target international partners, both European and Arab countries, to garner financial support for Jordan’s response through burden-sharing. The Government of Jordan has built durable and robust communication with the international community in shaping its refugee response. Donors particularly favor Jordan due to its overall stability compared to other countries in the region and its positive relationships with regional and international stakeholders (Tahrir Institute for ME Policy 2020). After 2015 Jordan’s rhetoric has gradually linked to the EU crisis rhetoric, as illustrated London Donor conference in 2016. Jordan used crisis language to highlight that it shoulders a heavy burden and need support, which was reflected in the design of the Jordan Compact (EC 2016).

Besides garnering development support, Jordanian government looked to claim national ownership in the refugee governance. Since the start of the crisis, the Jordanian government was involved in decision-making, planning, and coordination. It appointed the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MoPIC) as the lead agency and established a secretariat and information management system (Anholt 2020, 300).

The first Jordanian response plan (2015) was launched on 1 September 2014, by the MoPIC’s initiative, Jordan Response Platform for the Syria Crisis (JRSPSC). The Platform served to facilitate and support the partnership between the Jordanian government, donors, Jordanian ministries (e.g., Ministry of Education (Chinnery 2019), Ministry of Health and national and international humanitarian partners such as UN agencies and NGOs. Policy plans are prepared in collaboration with around 150 national and international partners, including government ministries, donors, UN agencies, national and international NGOs (JRP 2020–22, 1). The Government also developed an innovative method to approve externally funded projects that requires that such aid be divided between Syrian and Jordanian beneficiaries.

The concept of resilience legitimizes such a conditionality in a very sensible way in negotiating refugee hosting. In pursuing well-elaborated migration diplomacy, Jordan practised various techniques, including sophisticated planning for refugee response (JRP 2015, 2016–18; 2018–2020; 2020–2022). Jordan develops JRPs to align with current global processes such as the Global Compact on Refugees and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Analysis of plans demonstrated that they have at least three objectives: 1) claiming the ownership of Jordan in regulating Syrian refugee affairs and presenting them as a ‘nationally-led response,’ 2) integrating refugee and development responses in one comprehensive plan, and 3) to show the budgetary needs of Jordan empirically.. The Plans advocated for emergency measures to meet the immediate needs of refugees and to invest in capacity building related to service provision and infrastructure (Al Makhamreh and Hutchinson 2018). A closer look at JRPs through the lens of resilience provides insights into key components of Jordan’s refugee governance strategy.

Critical Discourse Analysis on ‘Resilience’ in the JRPs

Examination of word frequency in four JRP shows that the crisis concept is used 587 times, at the top list after generic concepts such as Syrian, refugee, Jordan, service, and sector. The crisis term was followed by health (n=525), access (n=448), vulnerable (n=429), and water (n=422). Other key terms include education (n=379), food (n=313) development (n=299), capacity (n=289), protection (n=250), energy (232), areas (n=192), and security (n=185). Resilience appeared among the most used concepts, used 172 times. Its usage was 84 times in 2016 JRP, 46 times in the JRP 2018–20, and 42 times at the JRP 2020–22.

Text mining illustrates that JRPs use the concept of resilience in both broad and narrow sense. The meanings can be grouped into at least four categories. 1) resilience as a framework/perspective/lens that shapes all interventions in refugee response, 2) resilience as a synonymy of development or justification of development aid demands, 3) resilience as the desired feature of the entire system, its components, and sectors, and 4) resilience as need and ‘desired trait’ of refugee individuals and hosting communities.

The first broad meaning attributed to resilience is treating it as framework, perspective, and a lens. JRPs consistently note that response has two pillars: Refugee/Humanitarian and Resilience pillars. For example, JRPs make calls to stakeholders to address the Syria crisis’s impact from humanitarian and resilience perspectives. JRPs suggest ‘assessing all interventions using a resilience lens’ (JRP 2020–22, 14).

Resilience is often used as a synonym for development objectives. The resilience-based comprehensive framework seems helpful in bridging ‘the divide between short-term refugee response and long-term development goals because humanitarian response cannot be dealt apart from resilience response’ (JRP 2020–22, 3). Starting resilience with humanitarian and development programming under a common nationally-led and resilience- based framework is important for ‘safeguarding human development and fostering resilience to future shocks’ (JRP 2016–18, 3). Moreover, resilience terminology seems to legitimize why Jordan needs more development support. Adopting the terminology of resilience, demands for budget support are asked sensibly. In this way, Jordan commits to harmonizing short-term refugee and longer-term developmental responses within a ‘resilience-based comprehensive framework’. In other words, it creates ‘a nationally led resilience framework that integrates humanitarian and development support’. In one way, resilience is used to replace development and reflect a desire to continue development objectives in the case of a protracted refugee situation. In another way, by adopting resilience, Jordan also commits to meeting international standards by noting that a resilience approach would ‘enhance transparency’ and make the system ‘cost-effective and transparent’ (JRP 2020–22, 15).

Resilience is also set as a goal to penetrate the system as a whole and its various components. JRPs seek to ensure the resilience of Jordan, host communities and national institutions by highlighting ‘Jordan’s resilience’ and the ‘resilience of [its] national systems and institutions’. It aims to develop resilience and strengthen systems in Jordan. Regarding the system components, JRPs underlined that each sector – health, education, and sanitary – is crucial for the resilience of national systems and institutions. JRPs advocate that the resilience pillar should be consistently incorporated across all sectors as a medium- to long-term approach. Notably, there is a need to foster the resilience of infrastructure and effectiveness of Jordan’s service delivery in the areas where many refugees and vulnerable host Jordanian communities live.

Resilience is adopted to single out the needs of each sector. JRP 2018–2020 informed that “twelve-combined refugee and resilience sector response plans” are prepared to support their resilience refugees and vulnerable Jordanians and contribute to Jordan’s broader economic development strategies. Among sectors, health is found the most critical sector that needs resilience. It is underlined that there is an ‘urgent need for humanitarian partners and donors to support the resilience of the Ministry of Health through the construction new infrastructure and the maintenance’. (JRP 2020–22, 32). The second highlighted sector is water infrastructure and its overall water governance system. For the resilience of the education sector, the emphasis is on ‘ensure the adaptability and quality of its education system’ (JRP 2020–22, 25). Besides sectors, governance levels such as local are put under the resilience umbrella. There are frequent references to enhancing ‘resilience capacities for several municipalities’ or ‘resilience of local governance systems’ to cope with the Syria crisis. In general, the response aims at strengthening the resilience of fragile ecosystems and communities (JRP 2016–18, 28; JRP 2018–2020, 63; JRP 2020–22, 26)

Resilience is also seen as a need and ‘desired trait’ of refugee individuals and hosting communities. The plans aim to meet ‘the humanitarian and resilience needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians impacted by Syria crisis’ (JRP 2020–22, 12). They set the goal of fostering “the resilience of Syrian refugees and host communities.” (JRP 2020–22, 1). Ideally, a coordinated approach meeting both the resilience and humanitarian needs of those in need would ‘decrease resorting to negative coping strategies’ (JRP 2016–18, 84). Resilience is not only aimed at meeting today’s needs, but to cope with ‘future shocks’ (JRP 2016–18, 3). In this regard, resilience is potentially valuable for enhancing social cohesion and community engagement. It is pointed out that there is a need to ‘support efforts to strengthen refugee and host community resilience, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence and focus on the needs’ (JRP 2020–22, 52).

Resilience ideally balances a claim on national ownership on refugee plans and aligns with the international humanitarian sector’s expectations and standards that fund interventions in Jordan. Frequently, Jordan underlines that it ‘serves as a leading model in responding to the crisis through its unwavering support and generosity by hosting 1.36 million Syrian refugees and meeting their humanitarian and resilience needs’ (JRP 2020–22, 1). JRP is presented as ‘a genuine model of a strong, longstanding partnership between the host country and the international community’ (Ibid.). Although the national government acknowledges that there has been generous support of the humanitarian and resilience pillars of the JRP in the recent years, this is because Jordan carries out ‘a global public good, in addition to pioneering resilience-based approaches with the development of the Jordan Response Plan’ (JRP 2020–22, 7).


There is no doubt that systems’ complexity and global interconnectivity made actors vulnerable to ‘extreme events such as mass migration flows and protracted refugee situations’ as the Syrian case has demonstrated since 2011. International, regional and national refugee governance systems need to develop ways to swiftly respond to such events by maximizing their capacity, coordination and endurance. The ability of resilience seems critical to do this. Besides being a system trait, resilience is a highly favorable concept for humanitarianism’s scholarly and practical world, including interventions addressing refugee situations. Resilience terminology is adopted in different regional and national responses. It emerges as a multivalent conceptual tool for both development and empowerment at a macro system level on the one hand, local, community and individual level on the other.

This chapter has shown that Jordan has also adopted resilience terminology in response to Syrians’ mass refugee migration at multiple scales (macro, meso, micro). Resilience as a tool is used as tool at macro scale, as exemplified in the Jordanian long-term refugee policy plans have adopted the vocabulary on resilience. The programs take resilience as a pillar of refugee governance with humanitarian assistance, substituting development objectives. At the meso level, reliance has been unduly emphasized for strengthening the capacity of several sectors such as health, education, and municipality services at local levels. Resilience is also associated with the needs of refugees and host communities. Advocates propose the cultivation of this desired trait at the micro level to ensure refugee self-reliance in the long run. The resilience approach seeks to balance the needs of vulnerable Jordanians, Jordanian host communities and infrastructure. Overall, resilience is approached as an intended characteristic of several system components: Jordanian national authorities, local organizations and individuals.

Jordan’s approach to resilience is not only discursive, but also a frame of action. It has multiple objectives: to enhance refugees and host communities’ self-reliance, strengthen Jordanian local authorities’ capacity to serve them, and negotiate better with international donors by adopting their favorable vocabulary. First, by overemphasizing resilience, Jordanian authorities can claim more national ownership in the refugee governance. This ownership claim has not contradicted the regional and global humanitarian policies, but instead reflects their discursive shift towards long-term self-reliance and resilience agenda is appropriate. As a rentier refugee state, Jordan has employed resilience terminology to legitimize further its aid demands targeting donors and implementers, mainly EU and UN agencies. It has used this rhetoric and pursued this agenda with great sophistication by presenting statistically supported evidence concerning the costs of hosting refugees. It has employed donors’ own rhetoric, centered on a resilience approach, including transparency, cost-effectiveness, crisis prevention, and vulnerability assessment in its presentation. In these ways, the resilience discourse has allowed Jordan to employ a moderate, diplomatic, and global humanitarianism vocabulary in negotiating refugee hosting.

On the one hand, this course has shifted responsibility to international donors by asking those actors to support refugee resilience. On the other hand, this approach begs the question of refugee capacity to cope and prove self-reliant as the conception assumes. There is, therefore, still a need for more research to understand more fully how Jordanian policymakers are implementing this policy.


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