Unemployment in Jordan motivates immigration to Europe

b_172_129_16777215_00_images_JOR15122aa001.jpegJordanian Adnan Ananzah, 27, moved to Saudi Arabia a few years ago when he couldn’t find a job in his home country. But even though he is an electrical engineer, he couldn’t find a job that paid him enough to cover his rent and other expenses.

Since he returned to Jordan in 2015, he still hasn’t been able to find a job. Desperate, he recently took a surprising move that is becoming increasingly common in the Hashemite Kingdom. From the small savings he kept from Saudi Arabia, he spent $4,000 to buy a fake Syrian identity papers and left for Turkey in hopes of eventually reaching Europe as a refugee. 

"I was very frustrated and wanted to immigrate to Europe by any means," said Adnan Ananzah, 27, recently before he left.

University of Jordan Sociologist Mustafa Mahmoud said Jordanians posing as Syrians was increasingly common given the county’s sluggish economy.

Unemployment in the kingdom stands at more than 18 percent - the worst in 25 years, according to the Jordanian Department of Statistics. But some groups are suffering far worse. For young people between the ages of 22 and 24, the rate is 41.5 percent. Among women, the jobless rate is around 30 percent. More than 23 percent of Jordanians who have earned a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD can’t find a job.

"It's normal young people looking for better life, and with the bad conditions in Jordan most of my students are looking for immigration, but the methods they follow are very dangerous and it shows an evidence that there is a major societal imbalance that has begun to emerge recently,” said Mahmoud.

Ward Al-Maaytah, 33, was a high school graduate who hadn’t worked for seven years when he struck up a conversation with a man who turned out to be a refugee smuggler in a cafe in Zarqa in eastern Jordan.  He sold his mother’s jewelry to raise $3,000 for fake Syrian papers.

“I know there are tens of thousands of young people travel to Europe in this way,” said Al-Maaytah. “So I accepted and started the adventure. The situation in Jordan is intolerable - huge taxes, no jobs and corruption.”

Mustafa Mahmoud, 39, is a smuggler who didn’t help Al-Maaytah. But he said he had helped at least 2,000 young Jordanians obtain Syrian documents so they might pose as refugees seeking haven in Europe.

Saying only that he works in the public sector when not smuggling people abroad, Mahmoud viewed himself as a Samaritan. “My work is not terrorism or immoral,” he said.

His clients leave Jordan using their Jordanian passports. They usually fly to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where they present their Jordanian papers to border control. Then they meet Syrians who are part of the smuggling ring who give them fake Syrian papers. From there, they head to the coast with the goal of reaching Cyprus and then Europe.

Mahmoud said he takes around 10 percent of the fees he charges would-be refugees.

Another smuggler, Mahmoud Hussein, a 53-year-old taxi driver, said he has been trafficking Iraqis from Jordan to Turkey and Europe since the Second Iraq War started in 2003. Four years ago, he started to see Jordanians asking about smuggling as well. The Syrian Civil War gave him an opportunity to help them, too.  His brother-in-law is a Syrian who works as a security official, so he can easily counterfeit identity documents for his clients.

Hussein is partial to Jordanian university students who have little hope of finding a job that matches their training.

“They are suffering, especially the fear of unemployment, rising prices and the unbearable taxes,” he said. “Most of them say they want to emigration and not return. Some even envy the Syrians as fleeing to Europe even on boats of death.”

The Jordanian government was skeptical that its citizens were masquerading as Syrian refugees. The spokesman for the public security unit in the Interior Ministry, Colonel Amer Sartawi, said INTERPOL or other authorities would surely have detained and discovered the true identity of at least one Jordanian citizen en route to Europe. But that has not happened.

“Assuming that there is any illegal immigration of Jordanians to Europe, we would know,” he said.

But the Jordanian migrants said they threw away their passports once they left Turkey so they might start a new life from scratch.

Hanadi Imad, 40, a housewife in Zarqa, said she would be happy to abandon Jordan and go elsewhere. She and her husband have been discussing how he might leave and how she might later follow.

"I wish my husband could emigrate in any way so that we can live a better life," she said.

Another version of this story can be found here.
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