Jordan has neither signed nor ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and thus legally avoids most obligations under that instrument. The country is, however, still bound by international customary law, such as the Convention’s principle of non-refoulement, and has subjected itself to a limited protection regime under a 1998 Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR.
Jordan’s situation as a host country for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) is unique. For one group of PRS, Jordan would serve as a second country of refuge: this group consists of Palestinians who originally fled for Syria from Northern Palestine in 1948 and the Golan Heights in 1967. Another group would consider Jordan as their third country of refuge, having originally settled in Jordan, only to be expelled to Syria following the Black September conflict in the early 1970s. Now, Jordan, along with Lebanon and Turkey, faces the onus of hosting upwards of 500,000 PRS.
In a strong affirmation to the work rights movement, a new discussion paper released by UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation Service (PDES) in December 2014, “Which side are you on?,” advocates for the adoption of a rights-based approach for addressing the issues surrounding “incentive payments” for refugees working for the organization.
This unambiguous call by UNHCR for a rights- based approach in restructuring the incentive system is highly encouraging. This will go a long way in restoring hope, dignity and self-reliance in the daily lives of refugees, besides enhancing their motivation in delivering services in a timely and professional manner to others in the refugee community. This will also foster the economic contributions of refugees, especially the skilled workers, to the local economy.
The report estimates that thousands of refugees are currently working in what is often characterized as “volunteering” positions for mere “incentive payments” which frequently fall below the minimum wage. These refugee workers are engaged in critical functions such as teaching, health services, cleaning and sanitation as well as community outreach. The report acknowledges that at present, there are no formal guidelines on the processes and criteria for recruitment, retention or remuneration of these workers. This has resulted in simmering discontent, leading to high turnover as well as deterioration and disruption of services, including through strikes.
In March, UNHCR published its Global Strategy for Livelihoods, pledging to promote refugees’ right to work as a matter of priority for 2014-2018.
The agency’s commitment to promote work rights is an important acknowledgement that the legal frameworks of host countries must support refugees’ right to access formal markets and labor protections if livelihood programming is to be effective. Without national legislation, as well as administrative and judicial support for the right, refugee employment and related livelihood programs run the risk of being unsafe, unsustainable or inaccessible.
The inclusion of work rights into the Global Strategy is an encouraging sign: UNHCR is taking a more active role in calling upon governments to respect the economic rights of refugees and committing to mainstream those rights in its operations.
For many refugees residing in the urban regions of Kenya, business cannot be run as usual. As the High Court case of Kituo Cha Sheria v. Attorney General remains underway, members from the urban refugee community in Nairobi reported to Asylum Access that they fear participating in society as usual while their right to work and move freely outside refugee camps hang in the balance.
As previously reported by Asylum Access, the Kenyan government issued a directive in late 2012 and again in early 2013 to force all urban refugees to relocate to the already overcrowded refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma. Reports from human rights organizations emerged soon after the directive’s announcement, stating that as a result of the policies, refugees in Kenya’s urban centers, particularly those in Somali enclaves, had been subjected to a wide range of abuses, including police harassment, violence, discrimination, bribery and arbitrary detention. Local NGO Kituo Cha Sheria challenged the policies before the High Court, and on 23 January, the Court issued provisional orders to halt the implementation of the policy.
By Stewart Pollock, Legal Intern, Asylum Access.
At Tuesday’s Plenary Session of the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Alex Aleinikoff spoke on the importance of innovation and self-reliance; highlighting the importance of refugee rights, including the right to work.