By Fares Braizat, Jan 30,2022

The overwhelming sympathy toward refugees who fled persecution or for economic reasons remains very high among Jordanians. However, when these sympathies are examined against economic rationality, they tend to change in degree, not type.

A survey published jointly by UNHCR and NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions last week shows that over 90 percent of Jordanians are “sympathetic toward people who come to Jordan to escape conflict and persecution for reasons of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”. This level of sympathy decreases in a statistically significant manner, although it remains above 80 percent when the reason for seeking “refuge” is economic. 

The further we examine attitudes, the more apparent economic conditions surface as a major driver of change in attitudes.    

What determines acceptance or rejection of refugees and immigrants? Does it differ from one society to another? Immigration research provides many determinants of attitudes toward refugees and these determinants do differ from one society to another. Some societies base their position on whether they need the services of the refugees or immigrants – economic determinants, while others factor cultural affinity, language, religion and education of the asylum seekers in the process of accepting or rejecting them. 

When comparing Jordanian attitudes to those of European societies, we uncover interesting patterns.   

In comparative terms, a recent study by the immigration lab of Zurich and Stanford, titled “Decoding European attitudes toward refugees”, which analyses data from 18,000 Europeans in 15 countries on “how economic, humanitarian, and religious concerns shape European attitudes toward asylum seekers”, concluded that “among those most likely to win acceptance were asylum seekers with professional skills and proficiency in the host country’s language — those who are expected to benefit rather than burden the local economy”. 

The study finds that if an asylum seeker is a doctor they are 11 percent more likely to be accepted than an unemployed person (base = 0), and if the refugee is a Christian, they are 11 percent more likely to be accepted than a Muslim (base = 0). The language of the host country, consistency of the asylum narrative, and vulnerability show similar probabilities, where 0 means they are does not speak the host country language, there is inconsistent asylum narrative, and the refugee is not vulnerable.

In a previous survey by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and NAMA, in December 2018, 84 percent of Jordanians described political relations between Jordanians and Syrians as “very good or somewhat good”. A higher percent of Syrians in Jordan (98 percent) described political relations in the same way. 

Although these attitudes reveal cultural affinity and humanitarian sympathy, when the economic conditions of Jordanians are taken into account, economic rationality begins to cause a shift in Jordanians’ perceptions of Syrian refugees to be less positive.  

Although Jordanian hosts and Syrian refugees have stated good grounds for these positions, both acknowledge the economic difficulties linked to refugees, and which affect Jordanians, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale. 

In the KAS-NAMA 2018 survey, when Syrian refugees were asked the open-ended question “taking all things into consideration, which country do you think treats Syrian refugees best”, 78 percent of them named Jordan, followed by Canada, at 6 percent, Turkey, 4 percent, and Germany, 2 percent. 

Although this might be conditioned by the context, 92 percent of them responded “yes” to the question “do you consider it an advantage being a refugee in an Arab country with a similar language and culture”. Furthermore, when asked “if you were given a choice, which country would you choose to go to as a refugee?” 56 percent chose Jordan, 19 percent chose Canada, 4 percent chose the US, 3 percent chose Germany, and 2 percent each chose Turkey, UK, and Sweden. 

Moreover, when asked “to what extent have you felt welcomed in Jordan”, 98 percent said they were welcomed. Also, 88 percent said they feel more welcomed in Jordan than in Lebanon and Turkey. These declared attitudes were mirrored by Jordanians.

On average, when Syrian refugees were asked to evaluate their impact on a variety of issues in Jordan, including security, infrastructure, water, education, health, labor market, government debt, the economy, trust in public institutions, 15 percent reported they had a “positive” impact, 25 percent said “negative”, 55 percent said no impact. An overwhelming majority of them, 77 percent, said their presence in Jordan had a positive impact on Jordan’s image internationally. While this is widely recognized by Jordanians and others, it does not ease the economic pressure ordinary Jordanians feel.

The perceivable change in Jordanian public opinion toward refugees is demonstrated in the decrease by 12 points between October 2020 and November 2021 of the percentage of Jordanians saying that “Jordanians’ perception of refugees” is positive. This decline can be explained by a body of opinion, ranging from 94 percent agreeing to the statement “there are too many refugees in Jordan”, to 81 percent agreeing to the statement “Jordan has done more than it needs to support refugees”, to 69 percent agreeing to the statement “Jordan should focus on helping Jordanian not refugees”, to 69 percent who agree to the statement that “refugees get more help than Jordanians”.

These concerns of Jordanians should not go unnoticed by the stakeholders. While even great communication tools and messages fail to change realties, it is essential to combine Jordanians-oriented development interventions with “proper” strategic communication effort to mitigate the changes and preserve what remained of social cohesion.     

The writer is the Chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E. Dr. Fares Braizat. 

This article was originally published in Jordan News on January 30, 2022. For the original article source, click here

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