Stuck on Getting By

Why are most refugees in Jordan stuck in the survivelihood phase?

In this issue of Fresh FINDings we feature research from Jordan, led by Swati Mehta Dhawan and Hans-Martin Zademach of Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. The study focuses on how refugees and migrants manage their finances in new surroundings. Please visit the Journeys Project at Tufts University for more information on previous studies, ongoing research, videos, maps, and artwork on refugees and migrants in the Middle East, Africa, and North and South America.

This month…

  • Navigating ‘Survivelihood’: Why refugees in Jordan plateau in their financial journeys too soon
  • New publication: COVID-19 and refugees’ economic opportunities, financial services and digital inclusion
  • FIND’s participation in the European Microfinance Week – Where did the ‘inclusion’ in ‘financial inclusion for displaced people’ go? and Roadmap to the Sustainable and Responsible Financial Inclusion of Forcibly Displaced Persons 
  • Announcing the winner of the Funding Futures Contest

Navigating ‘Survivelihood’: Why refugees in Jordan plateau in their financial journeys too soon

In the first edition of Fresh FINDings, we began to look at the financial journeys of refugee participants in Jordan. In our second newsletter, we explored what’s working for those who are ratcheting up and exhibiting entrepreneurship and success amidst limitation. In this next edition on Jordan, we focus on those who are stuck in what we can call the “survivelihood phase” (which was the majority of our research participants), where income from mostly menial work is not enough to cover basic needs and has to be supplemented by handouts (from humanitarian organisations or private donors) and borrowings from friends and families. There is an essay with more insights into this topic available on the Journeys website . Presented below is a summary of this essay.

Jordan has been an exceptional host to its 750,195 refugees despite its struggle with low economic growth and the increasing burden placed on limited natural resources. The international community has been supporting refugees and helping host communities cope with the strains of this massive displacement. The Jordan Response Plan (JRP), which mainly focuses on the Syria crisis, received 1.2 billion USD in funding in 2019. However, despite the numerous programmes and even after being in Jordan for many years, nearly 85 percent of Syrian refugees remain under poverty line (USD 96 per individual monthly). Though similar figures are not available for refugees from other nationalities (who are called “non-Syrian” refugees in the rest of the article), they are likely even more vulnerable as they are not covered under the JRP. They receive little aid from humanitarian organisations and are not allowed to work. Most are engaged in unstable informal work, often under exploitative conditions. 

“Comfortable Silence” by Liyou Zewide

We find that a majority of the participants are stuck in what we call the “survivelihood phase” where income from mostly menial work is not enough to cover basic needs and has to be supplemented by handouts (from humanitarian organisations or private donors) and borrowings from friends and families.  “Survivelihood” refers to the situation or phase of high external (financial) dependence for marginalised groups such as forcibly displaced persons, where they experience no or slow progress in their livelihoods for a relatively long period of time. 

In this edition, we look at the cases of Iman, a 45-year-old Syrian female refugee and Jakeem, a Yemeni refugee who is also one of our youngest participants at 22 years old (head over to the essay for more detailed insights into the financial journeys of refugees in Jordan and to learn more on the constraints they face in establishing their livelihoods). Iman and Jakeem, like many other refugees in Jordan struggle to find work, and when they do it is low-paying, unstable, and seasonal. This leaves them with no other option but to depend on debt to smooth consumption. Jakeemand other non-Syrian refugees face an even bigger challenge – the constant fear of being arrested by the police or being deported back to their home countries for working illegally, what a participant describes as “stealing their own living”.

Covid-19 has presented further challenges to refugees in Jordan. The pandemic caused a severe economic shock for the country, which had already been battling slow economic growth for years. The economy has contracted further and unemployment is rising (it was 23.9 percent in third quarter of 2020). This has changed the trajectories of even those who were finding success. 

Remember Abu Samer from our previous Jordan Fresh FINDings? He is one of the ‘positive deviants’ or ‘strivers’, showing entrepreneurship and success amidst all the limitations. We spoke to him recently for the third round of interviews and our conversation was very different. He kept saying that there is no future for him in Jordan. His business of driving Syrian school children has suffered because schools are closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. He had to sell his van and recently bought another one on installments. He realised that despite so much effort, he is not able to find any stability. Most importantly he sees no future for his children. He is spending so much money and putting so much effort into their education, but they can never become engineers or doctors because refugees are restricted to certain ‘open’ sectors. His resettlement process to Canada was also suspended because he never checked the emails they sent him. He was disappointed and distrusting of everyone. He was a very different Abu Samer.

For more on the latest FINDings in Jordan, be sure to read Financial Journeys of Refugees in Jordan: Empirical FINDings I.

New publication ‘COVID-19 and refugees’ economic opportunities, financial services and digital inclusion’

The International Rescue Committee published a new policy brief that builds on our FINDings in Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mexico.  The report ‘COVID-19 and refugees’ economic opportunities, financial services and digital inclusion’ analyses the increased policy support for digital financial services, to both allow for greater social distancing and support resilience in the midst of a major economic crisis. It finds that digital services such as mobile money can in theory be more accessible for refugees than standard bank accounts, but in practice refugees continue to face barriers. These services are often new and underdeveloped and therefore untested, or refugees are only permitted a restricted form of access. Even though digital services are likely to become more important given the ‘new normal’ and continued need for socially distanced services, this transition is only starting and refugees need to be included in mainstream and fully developed financial services. National governments need to implement relevant global and regional policy commitments to promote the economic and financial inclusion of refugees in their countries – and to allow them to move from ‘survivelihoods’ to livelihoods.

FIND’s participation in the European Microfinance Week 

Where did the ‘inclusion’ in ‘financial inclusion for displaced people’ go?

FIND partners the Catholic University (KU) Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) talked about the FIND research and launched the new report (above) at the European Microfinance Week

Highlights from the session included Hans Hans-Martin Zademach and Swati Mehta Dhawan presenting key messages from our research in Jordan and Kenya. They drew on evidence in both places showing that refugees face structural barriers to their economic and financial inclusion and that they face difficulties in ratcheting up their livelihoods. Financial solutions actually being made available to the displaced are separate, and outside mainstream networks (in Kenya) or not yet widely used (Jordan). 

This was followed by a lively panel discussion moderated by Daphne Jayasinghe (IRC) which included Felix Okech (World Food Programme Kenya) and Erica van Eeghen (Dutch Development Bank, FMO), who talked about their experiences in the two countries with financially including the displaced, including the challenges, but also innovative and creative solutions to work within the restrictive policy environments.

For a summary on financial inclusion for the forcibly displaced at the European Microfinance Week visit Financial Inclusion for FDPs.

Roadmap to the Sustainable and Responsible Financial Inclusion of Forcibly Displaced Persons 

The FIND project is an important step towards bringing life into the Multi Stakeholder Roadmap to the Sustainable and Responsible Financial Inclusion of Forcibly Displaced Persons that calls for more research, dialogue and action. The Roadmap offers a set of key policy recommendations for each relevant stakeholder group: governments, the private sector, humanitarian and development agencies, research organisations, and the standard-setting bodies (SSBs). It illustrates a vision for a way forward, and encourages stakeholders to take action to implement the Roadmap’s recommendations. Mariam Zahari from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion and Lisa Klinger from GIZ, two implementation partners have shared their experience in developing and implementing this ambitious agenda, talking about key obstacles and opportunities to join forces, specifically with regulators, in order to advance financial inclusion of FDPs.

Announcing the Winner of the Funding Futures Contest

The Kenya FIND team just finished running a poetry, essay, and visual artwork competition open to refugees and asylum seekers across the country. A small panel of gifted Kenyan writers reviewed the submissions and selected winners in early December.  Winning submissions will be featured in a compilation of refugee biographies that depict the process of financial integration from refugees’ own vantage points.  

Poster art by Liyou Zewide

Fresh FINDings is made possible through a partnership among Tufts University, the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Catholic University or KU), the International Rescue Committee and GIZ. Fresh FINDings also features work sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, and the International Organization for Migration.


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