The huge influx of Iraqis in Jordan over the past year has caused the creation of an illegal employment market that is undercutting the wages of ordinary Jordanians and sometimes robbing them of their jobs, local officials say.
In addition, some Jordanians blame incoming Iraqis for property price rises, and increasingly overburdened education and health systems.
“Iraqis who are educated can easily get good jobs in the black market but they are not well paid, and are exploited by working longer hours without being compensated,” Mustafa Abdel-Kadder, a spokesman for the Association of Iraqis in Jordan (AIJ), said.
“They [Iraqis] accept these conditions to keep their families in the country and avoid deportation,” he added.
About 750,000 Iraqis of different religious persuasions and ethnic backgrounds have found refuge in Jordan after fleeing the uncontrolled violence in their country, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Only 25,000 are officially registered as refugees, the agency says.
To determine the exact numbers of Iraqis in Jordan and their respective needs, the Jordanian government and Fafo Foundation, a Norwegian independent research institute, will begin undertaking a census of Iraqis in Jordan from 1 April.
The government hopes an internationally recognised study would persuade donors to grant Jordan the support it needs to accommodate the refugees and their respective needs. The survey is expected to take two months to complete and Jordanian authorities have said any Iraqis who do not cooperate will be deported.
According to specialists, most of the Iraqis in Jordan work in ‘black market jobs’, without proper documentation or government approval. With a huge pool of Iraqis willing to do menial jobs, business owners prefer to hire illegal Iraqi workers at a lower pay.
While Iraqi refugees are scattered all over Jordan, many live in the capital, Amman. This surge of people looking for refuge in the kingdom has led to huge price increases in the property market and in many other areas of the economy.
"There has been a frightful increase in prices, not only in real estate, but in every other area, such as services, food, transportation and fuel. This was a natural result of the increase in demand. Prices of apartments and land plots have gone up by 300 percent over the past four years,” Amer al-Sharif, a financial manager at Amman-based Khalaf & Ishtay Company for Housing, told IRIN.
“Now, Jordanians who hoped to buy a piece of land and build a house can only buy an apartment and those who wanted to buy an apartment can only afford to rent one. On the other hand, Iraqis have no option but to accept the high prices because they don't have any other place to go to,” he added.
Iraqis living to Jordan have differing economic means. Many are affluent and own property and businesses while others have spent all their savings just to get to the kingdom.
“Jordanians have used the desperation of Iraqis getting refuge in Jordan to increase [property] prices. Unfortunately, Iraqis are willing to pay so as to provide shelter for their families. The government isn’t doing anything to control this increase,” said Abdel-Kadder.
Peace and security
For those Iraqis who can afford it, high rent is a price worth paying for the peace and security they gain with it.
“We don’t have that much money left, but it could be worse. It’s good to see that your children can walk safely in the streets,” said Rabab Abdallah, 36, an Iraqi woman taking refuge in Amman. “The only thing that makes me sad is that Jordanians aren’t as welcoming as they were before.”
“I can meet my friends in Mecca Mall, have some coffee and go back home confident that nothing will happen to us, that we’ll put our heads on our pillows and not have anymore nightmares,” Abdallah added.
Mecca Mall is Amman’s biggest shopping mall. Local Jordanians call it Baghdad Mall because of the huge numbers of Iraqis flocking there. Some Jordanians resent the presence of such numbers of Iraqis in their country and the impact they are having on the economy; others are more understanding.
Ruba Nassif, 29, a Jordanian biologist and mother of two, was forced to move from an upmarket neighbourhood of Amman to the suburbs, where rents are lower.
“Prices have increased and what were good salaries have turned out to be not enough for our survival,” she said. “But Iraqis have helped Jordanians for decades, offering us free education and supporting our government, so now we have to help them. The [Jordanian] government should force shops and landlords to decrease their charges.”