Britain urged to offer working visas as part of wide package of support for Jordan

Ambassador to London sees relief from unemployment in the Middle East country stands at 22% helping its economy

Children play at the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. AFP
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Jordan’s ambassador to the UK has urged the Conservative government in London to throw open Britain’s borders to skilled workers from his home country to help with soaring unemployment rates as it struggles with the long-term burden of millions of refugees from its neighbours.

Manar Dabbas said an increase in visas would go a long way towards helping his nation reinvigorate its embattled economy as it absorbs the shocks of conflict and division from across the Middle East.

In the 12 months to June 2022, Britain issued fewer than 11,000 permits to Jordanians, the majority of which were for short-term visits.

More than 11 years after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Jordan continues to host about 1.3 million refugees from the neighbouring country.

It also supports 2.1 million Palestinian refugees — most of whom fled their homeland decades ago — as well as 100,000 Iraqi refugees. Those with refugee status account for 36 per cent of the overall population.

The country’s hospitality offered to those fleeing violence has in recent years placed increased strains on the country’s health, education and water supply sectors and caused unemployment to skyrocket to 22 per cent.

The mass influx of refugees sent the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to debt ratio from 60 per cent to 94 per cent, figures from the Jordanian embassy in London show.

Jordan has offered 300,000 work permits to refugees, allowing them to take jobs in the agricultural and construction sectors. But because the majority of Syrian refugees are paid in cash, the economy does not benefit from taxes and Jordanians find it difficult to compete.

Manar Dabbas, Jordan's Ambassador to the UK, pictured with King Charles III. Photo: Manar Dabbas / Twitter

Speaking to the UK Parliament's International Development Committee on Tuesday, Mr Dabbas called on Britain and its partners to help Jordan by offering more cash donations and longer-term assistance.

“The UK has done its share and, as a strategic ally and partner, has worked alongside [Jordan] since day one,” he said.

Mr Dabbas added: “The UK is unique in terms of being an excellent convener whereby the UK could convene key international players like they did back in 2019 with the London Initiative” — a major international conference held in the UK capital aimed at supporting investment, growth and jobs for Jordan.

While he acknowledged the UK is facing difficulties due to the energy crisis, he stressed “the UK is in a very good place to do something similar to what it did back in 2019”.

He suggested Britain could “explore the possibility of bringing more skilled Jordanian labour to the UK market and also push certain inward investment” to the developing nation.

Jordan’s surplus of qualified and trained doctors was mentioned as one area for potential collaboration, given that the UK’s National Health Service is lacking medics.

Mr Dabbas said in the first few years of the refugee crisis, Jordan received a “good response” from the international community in terms of aid for refugees. But in recent years the flow of cash has been reduced to a trickle.

“Donor fatigue … is not an option or a choice because this was a crisis not of our own making,” he said. “It was a crisis that was imposed on us and therefore we’ve been shouldering the burden of this crisis as part of our international commitment and obligations.

“Hence, the international community should step up its effort to increase support for Jordan.”

He added that the UNHCR working in Jordan has to deal with “shocking” numbers and huge funding gaps. Only 11 per cent of the £2.3 billion requested by Jordan to support refugees has been received from donors around the world.

On the possibility of a free trade deal with the UK, Mr Dabbas said Jordan had reached an association agreement with its ally and hopes to seal a pact in the future.

Syrian refugees in Jordan — in pictures

Updated: November 15, 2022, 5:43 PM