Syrian war forces businesses to relocate across border in Jordan

The country has seen a rise in tourism from the Gulf states as they have shied away from Syria and volatile Lebanon

The original Bakdash is located in Souk al-Hamiddiyeh, in the old city of Damascus. Crowds would line outside to purchase a bowl of the manually churned ice cream topped with shaved pistachios. But as business dried up – the shop still operates but suffers from the lack of visitors – the owner decided to open up across the border in Jordan.

“Everything is new,” says Samer al-Hariri, who used to make ice cream in Daraa but started at Bakdash in Amman three days ago. “Except the clients. They are old and new.”

At the tables, those tucking in ranged from police officers and Jordanians who fondly remember the treat from trips to Damascus to Syrians looking for a taste of home.

“We remember Syria when we eat this ice cream,” says Marwan Abd el Fattah Zeini from Homs, adding that the stuff tasted better in Damascus. “The milk is better there.”

Bakdash is but one of myriad shops opened up in Jordan by Syrians. In 2012 alone, 388 firms registered with the government. Between January and May, Syrians were second to Jordanians in terms of registered capital, investing over $1 billion in the country.

Indeed, as Syria’s economy has suffered, so Jordan’s has flourished, says economist Yusuf Mansur. The Jordanian port of Aqaba is benefitting from it neighbour Tartus’ lack of business and the country has seen a rise in tourism from the Gulf states as they have shied away from Syria and volatile Lebanon. 

Even the influx of refugees, a burden in terms of social pressures, can be viewed in a positive way. The Jordanian economy is heavily reliant on foreign aid, which comprises 6.6% of the country’s $31 billion GDP. The Syrian crisis has led to an increase of billions dollars worth of aid, both for refugees and the military.

Yet a report released by ESCWA last week painted a more austere picture, citing a rise in food prices and rent as part of an overall negative effect on the Jordanian economy. Health and education also suffer from the increased demand placed on them by the over 500,000 refugees the country of 6 million is hosting. Although Jordanians complain that Syrians are taking their jobs, unemployment has actually decreased from 12.9 to 12.2 per cent. “Syrians are not competing, they are replacing Egyptian workers,” says Mansur. The number of Egyptian workers decreased starkly earlier this year after the Jordanian government provided amnesty to illegal workers willing to leave.

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