American University of Beirut

Shadows to light: Syrian refugee entrepreneurs in Jordan’s informal economy

​Rese​arch​​ R​​eport

Ramzi Fathallah, Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut

Refugee Research and Policy Program, February 2020


​Hosting one of the highest number of refugees from Syria, Jordan has provided directly and indirectly some spaces for Syrian refugees to operate their own business ventures and earn their livelihoods. Within refugee camps, multiple businesses were established; many even thrived and expanded, while others stayed confined within tents and houses. Syrian refugees who moved to towns and cities in Jordan had access to more business opportunities but had more legal challenges to navigate. Many Syrian refugee entrepreneurs in Jordan operate in informal markets due to multiple restrictions and constraints. As Jordan has entered its eighth year of hosting Syrian refugees, the government has been working on reforms to formalize and facilitate their entrepreneurial work. Adopting an exploratory approach, this report examines 20 cases of Syrian refugee entrepreneurs operating in Jordan, their motivations, challenges, and adaptive mechanisms. We identify three types of adaptive responses through which entrepreneurs in Jordan are able to operate their business and adapt to a complicated and challenging institutional context. We find that whatever reforms are being made to support Syrian refugee work, the how remains as important as the what. Many issues remain unclear for Syrian refugee entrepreneurs, particularly in terms of protection and security rights. The report concludes with some practical and policy recommendations to protect and support these entrepreneurs.​

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