Making Refugees Work? The Politics of Integrating Syrian Refugees Into the Labor Market in Jordan

Katharina Lenner, Lewis Turner

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Refugee response planners no longer frame Syrian refugees merely as objects of humanitarian care. Increasingly they are portrayed as enterprising subjects, whose formal integration into labor markets simultaneously can create self-sufficient actors and cure the economic woes of host countries. However, bringing together humanitarian and economic agendas is not an easy task. This article analyzes the contradictions and frictions that have emerged in the process of implementing the Jordan Compact, a political commitment to integrate Syrian refugees into the formal Jordanian labor market, and which is supposed to showcase such win-win strategies. It argues that the Jordan Compact should be seen as a policy model that has achieved enough consensus and incorporated enough disparate objectives to be labelled a ‘policy success.’ Yet, central actors have neglected core features of Jordan’s political economy and labor market, and/or the lives and survival strategies of refugees, such that their radical blueprints of transformation have been disrupted. Despite the widespread commitment to the scheme, it is thus unlikely that the Jordan Compact will both reinvigorate the Jordanian economy and offer Syrians the prospect of a dignified, self-sufficient life, an important lesson for comparable schemes being rolled out across the globe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-95
Number of pages31
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number1
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019


  • Forced migration
  • Governance
  • Informality
  • Jordan
  • Labor markets
  • Middle East studies
  • Neoliberalism
  • Policy mobilities
  • Special economic zones
  • Syrian refugees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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