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Refugee influx will test Jordan's business climate

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Raad Adayleh/AP

(Read caption) A Syrian refugee family walks towards the new Syrian camp of Azraq, which stretches for 9 miles, and lies 55 miles from the Syrian border in Jordan, April 30, 2014.

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On a recent day in Amman, Osama remembers parking his car and being struck by the other license plates around him. “There were Syrian cars, Saudi cars, Kuwaiti cars, and then me. I was the only Jordanian,” he recalls.

It was just one occasion, but Jordanians like Osama, a civil servant, are feeling squeezed in their own country. Tensions are growing between the Jordanian population and more than 600,000 Syrian refugees who have streamed over the borders since 2011. “The city cannot handle the capacity to handle this situation,” says another Jordanian, Anas.

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Tensions between the local population and refugees could have longer term economic and political impacts – particularly if the Syrian crisis is prolonged. So far, Jordan has remained remarkably stable compared with its neighbors. But community tensions and economic frustration could deter the very investment and private business that would help. Moreover, the number of Syrians is only set to increase; there is no end to the conflict in sight, and fighting along the border could prompt a new wave of refugees into Jordan.

Jordan has a long history of absorbing refugees. Millions of Palestinians moved to Jordan after their territory was annexed by Israel half a century ago; the demographics remain a complicated political issue. During the Iraq War, more refugees arrived – yet in that case, many of them were middle class urbanites who brought their money with them. The Syrians arriving now are largely from the impoverished rural south of the country and many of them are destitute.

The most hot-button issue for Jordanians is jobs, which they say more and more Syrians are taking. The vast majority of refugees live in urban areas. Prohibited from working officially, they often accept wages below what an employer would pay a Jordanian for the same job.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.