?How does a refugee barred from working survive with no assistance

January 26, 2016


Abdelqassim Khaleel is a refugee from the Sudanese region of Darfur. Khaleel’s personal documents include a Sudanese passport, a UNHCR asylum seeker card and a high-school diploma that is now worthless given that the 29 year old is barred from working or continuing his education in Jordan.

Khaleel came to Jordan in 2013, after spending 10 years in a closed refugee camp in his home region of Darfur. The trip to Jordan was simply the most recent stage in a journey which began when Khaleel fled his home village after Janjaweed militias attacked, killing the residents and burning the fields. Khaleel would spend the next decade in camps set up by international aid organizations, camps he described as “giant prisons.”

During this period, Khaleel volunteered as a school teacher, however, a Janjaweed attack on the camp—in plain view of government and African Union forces—made him take the decision to leave. “They were killing, raping and pillaging. The government and African Union soldiers could see everything, but nobody interfered to protect us. First we fled to the public squares in the city and after a while some people decided to go back to the camp, but I decided to leave” says Khaleel.

Khaleel chose Jordan in the hopes of receiving assistance from UNHCR. He came to Jordan by plane expecting a brief stay before being resettled in a third country.

UNHCR recognized Khaleel as a refugee in 2014, one year after he first arrived in Jordan. However, this decision did not bring with it material assistance. In early 2015, a UNHCR team visited Khaleel in his home to assess his situation. After replying that he did not receive any assistance from any other organization, Khaleel’s request for aid was denied. Khaleel has since appealed this decision and has received promises from UNHCR that they will re-assess his situation, but until now he has received nothing.

In general, all refugees are in need of material assistance, says al-Hawari, but UNHCR searches for “the neediest” individuals to create balance between the refugee population. This process relies on a “mathematical formula” that accounts for all of a refugee’s needs.

Before not too long ago, Abdelqassim lived with six other Sudanese men who split the 180JD rent for an apartment near the Second Circle. However, the Jordanian government’s deportation of 800 Sudanese refugees back to their country last December changed the group’s calculations as five of Khaleel’s roommates were among those deported. Now Khaleel and his friend are unable to pay the monthly rent and have been forced to look for a cheaper apartment.

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“What are we supposed to do when there is no material support and the UNHCR Asylum Seeker Card says the holder of this document is not allowed to work,’ asks Khaleel. “We have no choice but to break the law,” says Khaleel before describing the many times he has run from the Ministry of Labor’s inspection teams. Khaleel says that he lives in constant fear of the inspection teams in addition to the fact that his work is mostly informal so he may work one day before waiting weeks to find another job.

The UNHCR document referred to by Khaleel states that “this document does not grant its carrier the right to obtain a work or residency permit in Jordan. The Jordanian government has the sole authority to issue work and residency permits.” However, obtaining a work permit is “impossible,” according to Khaleel, who says that the legal process includes a number of barriers for refugees.

For his part, Secretary-General of the Jordanian Ministry of Labor, Hamada Abu Nijmeh, says that there is no law banning refugees from working. However, the law does stipulate the occupations open to non-Jordanians according to specific conditions. “Nationality or refugee status does not impact” the issuance of work permits, says Abu Nijmeh, adding that the fees associated with obtaining a work permit range from 180JD to 700JD depending on the occupation.

Khaleel remembers one run-in with the Ministry of Labor inspection teams vividly. The police arrived at the construction site he was working at and all of the workers, most of whom were Egyptian or Sudanese, fled the scene. Khaleel and a few others were on the third floor so they decided to use the unfinished scaffolds on the exterior of the building to escape. “We were really scared,” says Khaleel.

To date, the total cash assistance received by Khaleel is a one-time 75JD winter assistance stipend issued by UNHCR in December 2015. “As someone under UNHCR’s mandate I should receive an organized monthly stipend so that I won’t be a burden to the host country or be forced to break the law. I know a lot of Sudanese who have been sent to jail for breaking the labor law and UNHCR has had to work to release them from jail,” says Khaleel.

As with financial assistance, Khaleel says that in his experience the health care provided by UNHCR is “fictitious.” When he felt pain in his stomach, Khaleel visited the Jordan Health Aid clinic to receive treatment, but was given sedatives without undergoing any medical tests. “They said if you don’t get better, come back. Of course I didn’t get better and when I went back they just gave me the same sedatives. They give those sedatives to everyone who goes to the clinic without even knowing what the illness is,” says Khaleel.

The UNHCR cooperates with Jordan Health Aid to provide medical care to refugees, says al-Hawari, citing that last year alone the cost of providing healthcare to refugees of different nationalities was nearly 30 million dollars.

Khaleel wants to be resettled in a third country in order to complete his education and find a career, however, his request for resettlement is still under review according to UNHCR.

“The only way I would return to Sudan is if that happened again,” says Khaleel, referring the government deportations of last month. Khaleel refuses voluntary repatriation saying that “I could be killed or arrested. Anything is possible. The problems in Sudan are complicated and difficult to explain but what is happening is based on ethnicity and we are the victims.”