Somali Refugees in Jordan: An Overview

Following Somalia’s 1991 civil war, the country has suffered greatly from political instability and violent conflict between opposing factions. In recent years, environmental factors such as flash flooding and drought, both of which lead to food insecurity, have added to the already growing number of Somalis who find themselves both internally and externally displaced. 

Jordan is home to an undefined number of Somali refugees, with estimates ranging from 2000 to 4000 people. Although their percentage of the migration population is dwarfed by the huge waves of Syrians and Iraqis who have entered the country in recent years, supporting Somali needs are just as crucial, as they face their own set of unique challenges.

Life for Somali refugees in Jordan is anything but easy. As well as the financial insecurity and inability to access healthcare that plagues the majority of refugees in Jordan, Somalis face the additional issues of racial discrimination, difficulties integrating into their new neighbourhoods, and a lack of attention from major NGOs and non-profit organizations. 

A Legal Perspective: Somali Refugees’ Right to Live and Work in Jordan 

Somali refugees in Jordan are permitted to register for official refugee status with the UNHCR. However, this means they must undergo ‘Refugee Status Determination’; a process that takes several months with multiple interviews and home visits. Applicants are not guaranteed to receive a positive decision on their request for status, nor are they eligible to receive any aid from either the UNHCR or the Jordanian Government during the process. 

The reality is that many families never apply for registration through the UNHCR. By starting the process, they make themselves vulnerable to deportation if they receive a negative decision on their application. Many families also fear legal consequences, since many may have illegally overstayed their visa in the country or are working without a valid work permit. Since the UNHCR reviews each individual application separately, some family members may be granted refugee status while others are not, leading to traumatic separations. 

Without UNHCR’s refugee status, Somalis in Jordan are left to fend for themselves. Since their presence in the country is illegal in some cases, it is difficult for them to find work. They tend to work in sectors Jordanians avoid, such as the cleaning or construction sectors, and they are often underpaid and exploited. If Somalis push back, they risk being fired, or even reported to the police. 

Barriers to Integration

Racism and racial discrimination is a common part of Somalis’ everyday life in Jordan. Somali refugees’ report frequent verbal harassment in the streets, and physical abuse is not uncommon. This greatly reduces the general feeling of safety of a community who has already fled traumatic circumstances in their home country. 

Many Somalis avoid registering their children in school in Jordan out of a fear that they may become victims of discrimination and bullying. When looking for work, Somalis report discrimination from potential employers. 

Somalis fear deportation on a daily basis. Due to their ethnic heritage, they are more easily identified by police as ‘non-Jordanian’ and may therefore may be stopped by police more frequently than refugees of other nationalities. They can be asked to produce residence and work permits, and if they cannot, they may face legal consequences. 

Additionally, Arabic is not the first language of the vast majority of Somali refugees. This makes integration difficult, as communication with their Arab neighbors is often a struggle. Administrative tasks like registering children in school or connecting with aid agencies can also seem out of reach.

Lack of Funding

Somali refugees often find that they are not a priority for larger international aid organizations. Due to their smaller number, relative to refugee intakes from Iraq and Syria in particular, they tend to attract less attention and find less support upon arrival in Jordan. It is harder for Somali refugees to gain access to emergency financial and food support, and as a result they face rising debts and worsening living conditions compared to other refugee groups. 

In recent years, many Somalis and other minority refugee groups have called for a ‘horizontal’ treatment of refugees, such as the One Refugee policy. Under this system, all refugees could access the same provisions of aid, rather than finding themselves grouped by nationality or other factors, such as the size of their community. They argue that although the Somali community is smaller in number, their need is just as great as other refugee communities, so assisting them should be of equal importance to aid organizations. 

How CRP Helps

CRP serves all refugees, regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity or religious background. Our Downtown Center in particular was set up with a view to serve the Sudanese and Somali community, who are often located in that area. 

Our Arabic classes are a vital first step towards integration for Somali refugees, as they are able to gain the skills they need to handle the practical challenges of displacement while at the same time building a social network. All of our programs bring together refugees and vulnerable Jordanians from a variety of backgrounds, and we actively encourage cross-cultural understanding through discussion and the dismantling of stereotypes. 

If you would like to learn more about what CRP is doing to support the Somali community in Amman, please reach out to us! You can also support our Somali families by giving to CRP, sharing this blog on your social media, and learning more about the status of Somali refugees in Jordan and around the world. 


Miranda Finlay

Donor Relations & Communications Officer