ILO Response to the Syria Refugee Crisis

Employment gives Syrian refugee women in Jordan “second chance”

The ILO and partners are helping Syrian refugees find jobs in Jordan’s garment sector, as part of efforts to implement an agreement between the EU and Jordan to relax rules of origin.

Feature | 23 September 2018
Jordan (ILO News) When Syrian Samira Alsmadi was first told about a job opportunity at a Jordanian garment factory, she felt hesitant. Yet, a few months into the job, she is enjoying her improved quality of life.

She says that her newly-acquired job at the factory has helped her regain a sense of stability and hope for the future.

“At first our financial situation was very difficult,” said Samira. “Now our livelihoods have improved. We feel more at ease, and we feel that we have a second chance to build a better life.”

Samira is a resident of Zaatari camp, Jordan’s biggest camp for Syrian refugees, and home to some 78,000 people. Many of the camp’s residents have struggled to find employment in recent years, particularly outside the camp.

Yet, thanks to a government decision to reduce barriers to the formal labour market for Syrian refugees, camp residents are now entitled to obtain work permits and be employed in areas outside the camp.

With the support of the European Union (EU), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Interior’s Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate, have set up an employment office in the camp to help connect its residents with local employers.

The employment centre is part of a series of offices being established across the country by the ILO to help both Jordanians and Syrians find jobs.

This initiative makes use of the Jordan Compact, an agreement between the EU and Jordan. The agreement gives preferential treatment in the European market to products manufactured in Jordanian companies in which at least 15 per cent of the workforce are Syrian refugees.

“The ILO is helping link employers with job-seekers, especially in the manufacturing sector, and specifically with factories that wish to benefit from the Jordan Compact,” said Maha Kattaa, ILO’s Regional Resilience and Crisis Response Specialist. “We are also liaising with different organisations and the private sector to get more international companies – buyers - to source from these factories and encourage them to commit to hiring more refugees.”

Supporting refugee women

The ILO support so far helped 2,300 Syrians and Jordanians get jobs in different sectors including 1,800 in the garment sector. This includes 347 Syrian refugees from inside and outside the camp, the majority of whom are women-165 women from Zaatari camp.

Kattaa said that there are plans to increase this number to 4,000 by mid-2019.

She said that specific efforts are being made to encourage more women to take on jobs in factories. In Zaatari camp, the ILO has been supporting workers by providing them with transportation from inside the camp to its gates, where they can then access factory buses.

“This has helped women overcome some of the barriers which have prevented them from gaining employment,” said Kattaa.

Oryana Awaysheh, executive manager at the Jerash Garment and Fashion Manufacturing Company, met a number of women job-seekers through a job fair the ILO organised at the camp. The fair attracted over 50 national and international companies.

“We selected a group of women to work at our factory,” she said. “I feel that the Syrian women working with us who are from the camp are truly in need of a chance to prove themselves and to help their families, through employment.” 

Employment centres

The employment centres are part of on-going initiatives by the ILO and the EU to support the implementation of the agreement between the EU and Jordan to relax rules of origin. The agreement aims to facilitate access of specific Jordanian goods to EU markets while at the same time creating incentives for Jordanian employers to recruit Syrian workers in addition to their Jordanian employees, in order to meet the requirements under the Jordan Compact.

Overall, the ILO is supporting eleven employment centres that are already established or currently being set up. These are located in a number of cities and industrial zones, as well as the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps.

Since it opened its doors to refugees a year ago, the Zaatari employment office has helped 7,400 Syrians in the sectors of agriculture and construction obtain work permits and to work outside the camp. In total, there are 10, 592 work permit-holders in Zaatari camp out of whom 13 per cent are women. The figure represents about 35 per cent of the working age population in the camp.