ILO Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan

The ILO has developed its own development-focused strategy to respond to the crisis in Jordan.

Briefing note | 21 November 2013
Since 2012, the flow of refugees from Syria to neighbouring countries has continued unabated and today constitutes one of the largest, most protracted humanitarian emergencies of its kind. The effects of the crisis are also increasingly spilling over into neighbouring countries’ economic and social spheres, resulting in loss of economic activity and income as well as dwindling access to quality public services.

The UNHCR in Jordan counts an expanding Syrian refugee population of over 550,000 by mid-November 2013, of which 130,000 Syrian refugees are hosted in the Al Zaatari camp. By August 2013 the Lebanese government estimated 914,000 refugees (including 92.000 Palestinian refugees from Syria) had entered the country, equivalent to 21 per cent of the native population. Based on current trends, by the end of the year the UNHCR predicts that 1.3 million and 650,000 Syrian refugees will enter Lebanon and Jordan respectively .

The refugee-receiving countries of Jordan and Lebanon were already experiencing difficult economic conditions before the Syrian crisis led to a dramatic increase in labour supply, which has added considerable pressure on their fragile labour markets.

While the socioeconomic and labour market situations in both countries may differ in many aspects, the impact of the refugee crisis has the following consequences:
  1. Rising unemployment, with considerable impact on youth and unskilled workers.
  2. Competition, pressure on wages and deteriorating working conditions, with an increase in informal employment.
  3. The worst forms of child labour among refugees are on the rise, with evidence of forced labour emerging.
  4. Depletion of livelihoods in the host community economies as a result of strained labour market conditions, lower earnings, and a rise in the cost of goods and services.
  5. Weak labour market governance and capacity of governments to adequately respond to the situation.

The ILO Strategy

Against this backdrop, the UN is preparing a strategy that looks beyond the immediate humanitarian assistance and provides a regional resilience-based development response to address the short, medium, and long-term impact on neighbouring countries. As such, the ILO has developed its own development-focused strategy to respond to the crisis in Jordan and Lebanon.

The ILO strategy builds on its core mandate for the promotion of employment, social dialogue, social protection and international labour standards to complement existing and planned country-level and regional response programmes such as the Syria Regional Response Plans and the UN Strategic Framework on Jordanian vulnerable host communities.

The strategy focuses on employment and livelihoods for refugees as well as host communities and is premised on:
  • Investment in the capacity and ownership of local actors.
  • Implementation of projects that lead to employment and Decent Work outcomes in the short-term as well as transferable long-term local and national benefits.
  • Support of better regulation of the presence of Syrian workers in the labour market by introducing job placement mechanisms and promoting measures to prevent unacceptable working conditions.
  • Linkages between national and humanitarian responses to Syrian child labour through policy coherence with national action plans.
  • Provision of policy development support to governments as well as national and international partners in active labour market programmes including entrepreneurship development and identification of employment opportunities.
The ILO’s work so far has focused on immediate action to build a knowledge base on the impact of the Syrian crisis on the labour market in Jordan and Lebanon, the incidence of child labour amongst Syrian refugees, the bolstering national response capacities, and support to adversely affected host communities. Currently, the ILO is finalizing its programming framework towards an enhanced response in 2014 that builds on the initial results of various labour market surveys conducted in 2013.


The ILO strategy will aim to achieve the following objectives and translate them into country specific interventions:
  • Contribute to building the resilience of host communities by enhancing access to employment opportunities and livelihoods.
  • Strengthen institutional capacity and coordination to combat unacceptable forms of work, with a focus on child labour.
  • Support policy development to ensure an employment rich national response, embedded in the principles of decent work.