The Unintended Victim: Jordan’s Struggle Under Trump's Refugee Ban

President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, suspending visas for citizens of six Muslim majority states and a temporary suspension of the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP) was implemented on March 16. But the order, aiming to strengthen US national security against “foreign terrorist entry” does not account for the unintended victim, namely Jordan, our ally in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa simultaneously struggling for stability amidst the nation’s millions of refugees.

Jordan is presently housing substantial numbers of Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees accumulated through decades of regional instability. Of these, 650,000 are Syrians registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) fleeing the Syrian war, entering its sixth year. The Jordanian Government, in the 2016 national census, reported the Syrian population to be as high as 1.3 million. In a Presidential report submitted to the Congressional Judiciary Committee in late 2016, President Barack Obama evaluated the financial cost to Jordan from FY 2016-2018 to surpass US$8 billion for addressing the impact of the Syrian crisis.

The United States, a principle ally and investor in Jordanian military and civil infrastructure, should prioritize Jordan’s stability and security as an extension of U.S. national security when evaluating the potential consequences of suspending refugee resettlement. Jordan, likewise, plays a principle role in the U.S. Global War on Terror, more specifically, the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Standing less than 10 km from ISIS positions on Iraq’s southern border, the Jordanian security forces are fighting on the front lines against the expansion of radical terrorism and recruitment. In the last year, Jordan faced several ISIS attacks that left several civilians and security forces dead. These struggles are compounded by the lack of sustainable, durable solutions for refugees living between refugee camps and those living among the host populations in urban areas.

Refugees in Jordan do not have the option to informally migrate to Europe, one available to those in Lebanon and Turkey who opt for making the journey over land and sea. Instead, Jordan’s refugee population, without the option of resettlement, must choose one of three options: life in a refugee camp, life among the host community, or return to Syria. The protracted conflict and prolonged absence of durable solutions for those choosing to stay increases their exposure to extreme poverty and the associated drivers of radicalism (e.g. lack of education opportunities, lack of legal employment, and susceptibility to recruitment by non-state actors).

Resettlement is the only legal means for decreasing the number of refugees in neighboring Middle East countries housing significant refugee populations, specifically Jordan. This is reflected in an increasing annual total of Syrians resettled to the United States. From 2011 to 2015, the annual total of resettled Syrians rose from 29 Syrians (less than 1 percent of total resettlement to the US) to 12,600 (15 percent) in 2016. In 2015, Obama announced a new Syrian resettlement program that would step up US resettlements efforts by admitting nearly 12,000 Syrian refugees (resettled from Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey). While the program only accounted for roughly 1 percent of Jordan’s total Syrian population, it was the first major step to assist Jordan’s struggling refugee population. Since the beginning of FY 2017 until the first executive order suspended Syrian resettlement, 5,500 Syrians were resettled to the United States. Suspending USRAP will result in increased pressure on Jordan to provide for an increasing Syrian refugee population. Without resettlement, the total population will continue to grow further stretching the limited assistance provided and subjecting refugees to further poverty. Furthermore, the suspension could likely influence the behavior of Syrian refugees both already in the resettlement process and those who see resettlement as the last hope of survival.

The US refugee resettlement program, a chief example of international assistance, is a critical foreign policy tool that directly impacts the global war on terrorism and the fight against ISIS by addressing the root causes of these issues, a point agreed on by both Congressional democrats and republicans, but missed by the executive order. Jordan’s stability is imperative for the advancement of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. By ensuring the continuity of the US resettlement program, the United States allows Jordan to confidently invest their focus on stabilizing their country, fighting terrorism, and strengthening their economy. And, in turn, the United States maintains a strategic relationship with a regional partner for peace.

Jesse Marks is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow specializing in Middle East foreign policy, civilian protection, and peacebuilding. Follow Jesse on Twitter at JesCMarks.

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