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Providing work in Zaatari

Apr 06,2015 - Last updated at Apr 06,2015

The Zaatari camp, established in July 2012, hosts over 83,500 Syrians within a fenced area of 3.3 square kilometres.

It has two shopping centres that are primarily used for shopping for food, camp administration, security forces, a narrow strip called (mockingly most times) the Champs Elysees, with makeshift trailer shops, and residents whose movement in and out of the camp is highly restricted.

The camp may be viewed as a fenced city for an unemployed and impoverished population.

It is difficult to imagine the life of those unfortunate Syrians who arrived there in 2012, have been there for over two-and-a-half years and may be for five more years to come.

How would one feel living in a tent that freezes in winter and becomes an oven in the sweltering heat of the summer, forced to stare at one's wife and children day and night.

Once a proud husband and father, a Syrian in the camp became dependent on others to live and his outlet to the world is the visits of donor representatives and their sympathetic stares.

What is missing in Zaatari?

I will not talk about the things that are missing in the camp, for they are many.

But since the camp seems to be a long-term project, it should be addressed with long-term solutions.

One thing the inhabitants ask for is the ability to work. Yes, they would rather work than receive aid.

Yet, due to security issues and other considerations (among them the false belief of many that the refugees take jobs from Jordanians), it seems that the Zaatari residents will continue to reside there and because work cannot be found but outside the camp, they will continue to be unproductive consumers.

The solution must be to bring work to the camp, then.

What type of work?

One way would be to benefit from the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect on December 17, 2001, and establish a garment-manufacturing facility there, or even several.

Jordanian security experience with the QIZs, which was later extended to the US-Jordan FTA factories, can be easily utilised to make the work in camp garment factories safe and secure for all.

Investors will pay the minimum wage to the workers, who will busy themselves with work and earn a living for their families.

As donors get tired and could shift attention to other areas of conflict in the region, refugees will secure incomes from the work in the camp.

Donor fatigue is already apparent. Work is an honourable solution to the falling aid.

The proposed solution would be winner for investors as well, as Syrians are famed for their garment and textile industry, and their know-how, in addition to the savings employers make from not having to purchase air tickets or pay for housing or factory rentals — the government can rent land on the outskirts of the camp if it so wishes and thus earn even more.

The required investment is less than $1,000 per worker; thus $200,000 will employ 200 refugees, an attractive incentive for investors.

In addition to the benefits listed above, Jordan can stop or at least slow down the creeping exodus of garment factories to Egypt through this arrangement.

Note that this should not be more of a threat to Jordanian labour opportunities than what happened in this sector in the past: currently, less than 20 per cent of garment workers are Jordanian and the remaining 80 per cent are from East Asian countries.

Jordanians often shun this type of employment (this is a matter of public record and empirical evidence).

Jordan stands to gain in terms of exports and hard currency, as well as the expanded spending power of the refugees (more sales tax collections as well as work permit fees), as it would earn more than it makes from donations. 

The suggested garment factories in the camp should ease the burden on all and provide a long-term solution to some of the woes in Zaatari.

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