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  • Åge A. Tiltnes, Huafeng Zhang and Jon Pedersen

The living conditions of Syrian refugees in Jordan

Results from the 2017-2018 survey of Syrian refugees inside and outside camps

  • Fafo-report 2019:04
  • Fafo-report 2019:04

Based on data from a national household sample survey implemented between November 2017 and January 2018, this report describes and contrasts the living conditions and livelihoods of Syrian refugees in six geographic localities: Amman; Zarqa; Irbid; Mafraq; the other governorates taken together; and the refugee camps. Doing so, it finds that the situation of the refugees residing in the first three areas is significantly better than elsewhere. The report also compares the circumstances of Syrian refugees over time and shows that they have improved: educational enrolment is up, labour force participation rates are higher and unemployment lower, housing standards have improved and access to health care is decent. However, large numbers of refugees live in poverty and still depend on assistance and subsidised services.

Executive Summary

Drawing on a survey implemented by the Department of Statistics (DoS) between November 2017 and January 2018, the report presents recent statistics on Syrian refugees residing in Jordan. It presents findings for six geographic localities: Amman; Zarqa; Irbid; Mafraq; the other governorates taken together; and the refugee camps. The report is based on information from 7,632 households and 40,950 individuals.

Sampling was based on the DoS sampling frame constructed on the 2015 population census. A total of 1,121 clusters (locations) outside camps and 82 clusters inside camps were randomly selected. The sampling design was not geared towards estimating the number of Syrian refugees in the Hashemite Kingdom, but instead aimed for efficiency with regard to describing the Syrian refugee population in accordance with project objectives.

A household is defined as a unit that pools its resources together, and whose members usually sleep and eat (most meals) together. Usually, the household members are immediate or more distant relatives, but they do not have to be related. This report defines a refugee household as one where the head of household is a Syrian refugee. It understands a Syrian refugee to be any Syrian individual who fled to Jordan from Syria as a consequence of the crisis and war there and arrived in Jordan after 15 March 2011, and who acknowledges or defines him- or herself as a refugee; any Syrian national who resided in Jordan before 15 March 2011 and became a refugee because he or she could not return to Syria; or any children of these two categories of people born after 15 March 2011. The vast majority of these self-ascribed Syrian refugees, 97 per cent, have formalized their refugee status by registering with the UNHCR.

Demographic characteristics

Forty-eight per cent of Syrian refugees originate from Dara’a. The other major governorates of origin in Syria are: Homs, 19 per cent; Aleppo, 10 per cent; Rural Damascus, 9 per cent; and Damascus, 8 per cent.

The refugees have been in Jordan for 4.6 years, on average. Two per cent have been back in Syria.

The Syrian refugee population in Jordan is quite young, with 48 per cent of the population aged below 15, which is much younger than figures for the population in Syria prior to the crisis.

There are more Syrian women than men aged 25 and over.

Syrian refugee women marry much earlier now than what women used to do in pre-war Syria. While around 3 per cent of 15-year-olds in Syria were married before the war, we found that this number has risen to 14 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of women aged 20 are married, compared to 43 per cent in 2008 (according to Syrian statistics).

Men also appear to marry earlier now than in pre-war Syria: While very few men had married by age 20 before the war, 23 per cent had married as refugees in Jordan.

Mean household size is 5.3 persons. Camp households are slightly smaller than households outside camps.

Twenty-two per cent of all households are headed by women.

Households consisting of two parents and their children are the most common (at 58 per cent). Single-parent households make up 16 per cent of all households.

Households and their dwellings

The most common dwelling size consists of two or three rooms, except in camps where one- or two-room homes are the norm; dwelling size generally corresponds to the number of pre-fabricated housing units (caravans).

Outside the camps, crowding is more of a problem in Mafraq than it is elsewhere.

Ninety-nine per cent of Syrian refugee households rely on piped water or buy it from tanker trucks. Some use these sources of water for drinking (39 per cent), but over one-half of the households get their drinking water from a different source: mainly filtered water purchased in fairly large containers (57 per cent), although some resort to buying water in smaller bottles (4 per cent).

Syrian refugees in the camps do not pay rent.

Ninety-eight per cent of Syrian non-camp refugees rent a dwelling on the private market.

Monthly rents in the range of JD120 to JD150 are common everywhere, except in Other governorates, where the mean rent is about JD80.

Household economy

The survey asked about household income during the past 12 months from 40 different sources, which are grouped into major sources of income: wage income, 61 per cent; self-employment income, 3 per cent; private transfer income, 14 per cent; institutional transfer, 90 per cent; property income, 1 per cent; and other income, 11 per cent.

Combining two or more forms of (grouped/major) income is more common than relying on only one income source, and seven in ten households report at least two forms of (grouped) income.

Having income from a source does not mean that this source is important to a household. Analysis shows that 51 per cent of all Syrian refugee households rely primarily on employment income; 26 per cent report transfer income only and 7 per cent rely mainly on transfers; 13 per cent of all households combine employment and transfer income; and 2 per cent of all households rely primarily on other income sources.

For Amman, Irbid and Zarqa, the median yearly household income is around JD3,000 whilst it is about JD1,000 lower in the camps as well as in Mafraq and Other governorates.

Forty-three per cent of the Syrian refugee households said their total income had fallen over the past two years, 48 per cent reported that it was the same, and 9 per cent said their income had increased.

The survey mapped ownership of 34 durable goods. Access to durables is generally lower amongst Syrian refugee households in camps, but many durables are found in most households: for example, the majority of households have access to TVs (95 per cent), satellite dishes and receivers (89 per cent), refrigerators (89 per cent) and washing machines (82 per cent). However, very few own computers (2 per cent) and have Internet connection at home (4 per cent). Only 1 per cent of Syrian refugees own a car.

Median monthly household expenditure on certain items comprise the following: rent, JD135; energy, JD21; food, JD120; tap water, JD5; bottled water, JD3; transportation, JD10; phone/mobile, JD10; and medical treatment, JD17 (mean, not median).

Two per cent of all households have savings.

Two-thirds of all Syrian refugee households have debt. Median debt amongst indebted households is JD450. Around 80 per cent of those with debt owe money to relatives and friends in Jordan, whilst less than 10 per cent are indebted to relatives and friends in Syria. One in four households owe money to a shop owner. Three per cent of those with debt owe money for medical treatment and 5 per cent owe money to their landlord.

Using an internationally acknowledged battery of questions developed by FAO, we found that the incidence of food insecurity is considerable among Syrian refugees in Jordan: The moderate and severe prevalence rate of food insecurity is 40 per cent, while the severe prevalence rate is 18 per cent. The latter is higher than the average severe prevalence rate of 12 per cent for the region and 12.5 per cent for Jordan as a whole.

Health and health services

The survey applied a short questionnaire module developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics, designed to identify people with a disability—i.e. the extent to which they are plagued with chronic health failure with negative functional consequences (barring them from performing everyday tasks and restricting their participation in normal life). Six basic universal activities were covered: walking, seeing, hearing, cognition, self-care and communication. Comparison with national data for Jordan is possible because the same tool was included in the 2015 population census.

Sixteen per cent of the Syrian refugee population in Jordan report chronic health failure.

For seeing, hearing and communicating, there seems to be no functional disparity between Syrian refugees and the general population. However, Syrian refugees have above-average problems with memory and concentration. Furthermore, the prevalence of difficulties with personal care and challenges climbing stairs or walking is reported for 4 and 10 per cent of the Syrian refugee population, respectively, which is twice as high as for the Jordanian population.

There is a strong positive association between functional problems and age, with people’s ability to perform everyday activities beginning to deteriorate from age 30 and, amongst those aged 50 and above, over one-half report some difficulty in at least one of the six functional domains.

Despite the low incidence of disability (i.e. experiencing a lot of difficulty in at least one domain) in children, disabled children make up a substantial share of the total number of disabled people because there are many more children than elderly in the overall population: 19 per cent of the disabled are aged 5 to 19; 26 per cent are aged 20 to 39; 19 per cent are in their 40s; 15 per cent are in their 50s; and 22 per cent are 60 years or older.

Sixteen per cent of Syrian refugees who arrived in Jordan after 15 March 2011 with any difficulty in at least one of the six functional domains reported the problem to be caused by either war or flight. The same was reported for 20 per cent of those with a large degree of difficulty in one or more of the domains.

Seventy-eight per cent of Syrian refugees with chronic health failure are in need of medical follow-up; of these, 21 per cent do not receive follow-up, 30 per cent turn to services provided by an NGO, 26 per cent use public services and 18 per cent use services from private providers. Four per cent benefit from UNRWA’s health services.

The percentage of those relying on the private sector is particularly high in Amman (29 per cent), whilst there is a heavy reliance on NGOs for follow-up of chronic health conditions in the camps (68 per cent) and in Mafraq (52 per cent), which have a particularly high share of vulnerable refugees.

Only 4 per cent reported sudden illness or injury during the 12 months preceding the interview, out of whom 87 per cent sought medical help.

Eighty-five per cent of those who sought assistance consulted a medical doctor—either a general practitioner (46 per cent) or a specialist (39 per cent)—and 14 per cent went to a pharmacist.

Public facilities received a higher share of the infirm (40 per cent) than private and NGO providers (both 23 per cent).

Just as with medical follow-up associated with chronic health problems, the poorest Syrian refugees and those residing in Mafraq and the camps more frequently turn to NGO services.

Two-thirds sought help within their neighbourhood or their own residential area (or camp), whereas one-third travel farther. Thirteen per cent of the camp dwellers searched for help beyond the camp border, nearly all of them looking for a specialist.

Approximately four in ten Syrian refugees who saw a medical doctor following an acute illness did not pay for the assistance.

Median consultation cost is JD5; if those receiving free consultations are excluded, the median cost is doubled to JD10.

Payment for medicines and other remedies is higher than the payment for a consultation with a medical doctor. The median outlay is JD10. When those not paying anything are excluded, the median payment doubles to JD20.

More than eight in ten are ‘very satisfied’ or ‘rather satisfied’ with the health services they have received.


Fifteen per cent of adults aged 20 and above have achieved a secondary or post-secondary degree. Another 24 per cent have completed basic education. Twenty-six per cent did not complete elementary school.

Enrolment rates for children aged 6 to 11 are high, at 99 to 100 per cent. Enrolment rates start falling from age 12 onwards: 12 years, 92 per cent; 13 years, 86 per cent; 14 years, 71 per cent; 15 and 16 years, 39 per cent; 17 years, 23 per cent; 18 years, 13 per cent; and 19 years, 12 per cent.

Compared to 2014, a significantly higher proportion of Syrian children are enrolled in basic education, and they remain enrolled longer. In 2014, only 49 per cent of 14-year-olds and 22 per cent of 15-year-olds attended basic schooling. The level now stands at 68 and 48 per cent, respectively.

The share of Syrian refugee children aged 16 and 17 attending secondary education has also increased, albeit not as much: standing at 12 and 17 per cent respectively in 2014 and at 15 and 21 per cent currently.

Two to five per cent of Syrian refugees aged 18 to 22 attend post-secondary education, compared to 24 to 46 per cent of Jordanians in this age group.

Ninety-five per cent of Syrian refugee children attending basic education are enrolled in a public school, while 4 per cent are enrolled in a private school and 1 per cent are students at a school run by UNRWA.

In the refugee camps, all schools operate two shifts, where the girls attend the morning shift and the boys attend the evening shift. Outside the camps, 71 per cent of Syrian refugee children are enrolled in two-shift schools, with two-thirds attending the afternoon shift.

Ten per cent of Syrian refugee children currently enrolled in basic schooling have repeated at least one school year.

Labour force

The indicators used in this report adhere to the ILO framework, which sort all individuals aged 15 and above into groups consisting of those who are part of the labour force and those who are outside the labour force. Members of the labour force are then sorted into groups based on whether or not they are employed. The latter group is next sorted into those who are unemployed and available to start working/actively seeking work and those who are unemployed and not seeking a job. The period of reference for the calculations in this report is the week preceding the interview, unless stated otherwise. A person who worked at least one hour the previous week is classed as employed.

The labour force participation rate is calculated by adding the percentage of employed to the percentage of unemployed, available and actively seeking work. For men, this varies from a low 48 per cent in Mafraq to 65 per cent in Amman. The average is 59 per cent, which is up seven percentage points from 2014 and is similar to the national level (60 per cent in the 4th quarter of 2017).

The labour force participation rate for women has seen a positive but minor change from 2014 and stands at 7 per cent, which is less than half the national rate (16 per cent) and is the main reason why the overall labour force participation rate of Syrian refugees still lags behind the national rate.

In addition to the individuals defined as employed and economically active using the previous week as the reference period, another 7 per cent of adults—the vast majority of them men—had held one or more jobs during the 12 months leading up to the survey.

Unemployment has dropped radically from 61 per cent in 2014, now standing at 25 per cent, which is not dramatically different from the national unemployment rate for the 4th quarter of 2017 (18.5 per cent).

The unemployment rate for Syrian refugee men is 23 per cent but it is double that for women. However, the female unemployment rate has been halved since 2014.

The major occupations for men consist of the following:

Thirty-seven per cent are craft and trades workers: e.g. work related to building and construction, blacksmiths and machine repairers.

Twenty-five per cent are service and sales workers: e.g. domestic housekeepers, hairdressers, waiters and sales persons in street markets.

Twenty-three per cent are in elementary occupations: e.g. construction workers, manufacturing labourers and garbage collectors.

Five per cent are white-collar workers: professionals (e.g. medical doctors, engineers and teachers), technicians or associate professionals (e.g. assistant engineers, assistant nurses and construction supervisors), and other managerial or lower-level administrative positions and perform office work; a large share of the white-collar workers are early childhood and primary school teachers—this is especially the case for women and camp refugees who are highly educated.

The main difference between the work of Syrian refugee women and that of the men is that the former are more often professionals and have office work, and are less often employed in crafts and trades. Reflecting the fact that Syrian refugee women with higher education are more likely to be economically active than those who are less educated, about one in five employed women are professionals, associate professionals, technicians and clerks. However, the majority of Syrian refugee women work as service and sales workers and in elementary occupations.

With the exception of two industries, women and men tend to work in much the same sectors:

One in four employed Syrian refugee men (23 per cent) work in construction and 1 per cent of women work in that industry.

Twenty-five per cent of Syrian refugee women work in education, health and social work whilst only 5 per cent of men work in those sectors.

Manufacturing (19 per cent of the men; 21 per cent of the women).

Wholesale and retail trade (19 per cent of the men; 14 per cent of the women).

Accommodation and food service (8 per cent of the men; 10 per cent of the women).

Agriculture (8 per cent of the men; 13 per cent of the women).

Amongst all the Syrian refugees who had worked during the 12 months leading up to the survey, one in five had worked on a cash-for-work scheme run by an NGO or a UN agency.

Most Syrian refugees work as paid employees with salaries (93 per cent), and another 5 per cent work as own-account workers.

Comparing the refugees’ current employment in Jordan with their work experience in Syria before the displacement reveals:

An increased tendency to work in accommodation and food services, and fewer individuals than before work in agriculture.

A reduced relative importance of occupations within crafts and trades; work as plant and machine operators, and assemblers; and employment as skilled agricultural workers (occupations). In contrast, jobs in service and sales and elementary jobs have become more common.

Amongst Syrian refugees with work experience from their home country, 11 per cent are not currently employed in Jordan.

Outside the camps, one-half of all employed people travel more than 30 minutes from home to work.

Eleven to 18 per cent of the employed Syrian refugees in the various reporting domains spend over JD3 daily on transportation to work.

A work contract is a common feature of steady jobs in the formal sector and is generally associated with high work security, access to non-pay benefits and good, decent working conditions. Syrian refugees in Jordan are generally not well protected by work contracts, with the possible exception of those residing inside camps. Outside camps, from 2 per cent in Zarqa to 8 per cent in Amman have a work contract, compared to 43 per cent of camp residents.

One-third of all employed Syrian refugees report being in possession of a valid work permit.

Median and mean net employment income is JD200 and JD220, respectively. It is highest in Amman, with a median net monthly income of JD250 and a mean income of JD288, and lowest in Mafraq and the camps, with a median net monthly income of JD150.

Median and mean income is fairly similar across age groups from the age of 20 onwards, with no apparent positive impact of age and thus little evidence that the work experience of Syrian refugees is rewarded in the Jordanian labour market.

Very few Syrian refugees in Jordan have access to non-pay work benefits, such as retirement pension (1 per cent), maternity leave (2 per cent), paid sick leave (5 per cent) etc.

A majority of the employed Syrian refugees did not work the entire year preceding the survey. Only 37 per cent worked 11 or 12 months, while 35 per cent were employed less than half the year.

Work-related accidents and illnesses during the 12 months prior to the survey were more common outside the camps than inside the camps. Less than 2 per cent inside the camps had experienced work-related accidents and illnesses, contrasted with 7 to 9 per cent residing outside the camps. Three to four per cent of those employed in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid and Mafraq had work-related accidents or illnesses serious enough to require absence from work for more than a month.

During the past year, one in four had experienced a delay in payment or salary of two weeks or more and 16 per cent had not been paid for a job they were supposed to have been paid for.

As captured by the survey, child labour is fairly low: Approximately 1 per cent of children aged 9 to 14 are employed and another 0.5 per cent are both employed and enrolled in school. The incidence of child labour is higher amongst boys (1.7 per cent are employed and not in school whilst 0.9 per cent combine work and schooling) than girls (of whom 0.3 and 0.1 per cent, respectively, do the same).

Around 12 per cent of Syrian refugee children—boys and girls alike—are neither working nor enrolled in school.

More than nine in ten employed children aged 9 to 14 work out of economic need.

Mean and median weekly work hours for children aged 9 to 14 are 38 and 30 hours, respectively.

63 per cent of the respondents felt that it was getting increasingly difficult for Syrian refugees to obtain a job, while 25 per cent thought that it was the same as before.

The Special Economic Zones are only known to a minority of Syrian refugees but one-third would accept a job there given the right incentive. Amount of pay and travel time are critical factors.

Looking ahead

Six in ten consider that developments with regard to their living conditions will be fairly positive (51 per cent) or very positive (9 per cent); three in ten expect that their circumstance will not change, whilst one in ten believe their living standards will deteriorate.

Looking two years ahead, there are more Syrians who think they will still be living in Jordan than there are those who think they will have returned to Syria.

Three in ten claim they are considering a move to Europe.

  • Publisert: 7. februar 2019
  • Ordrenr. 20701




  • Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dept. for Humanitarian Action, Migration and Civil Society