Refugees & Subsidies: Evaluating the Impact of Cash Transfers on Syrian Refugees in Jordan
This post was written by Sarah Stillman, Research Associate for the Syrian Refugee Life Study at CEGA
Housing Subsidies for Syrian Refugees in Jordan
In recent years, much of the press surrounding Syrian refugees has covered the backlash that European governments face in accepting large numbers of refugees. What many people don’t realize is that most refugees never make it all the way to Europe. Jordan currently hosts over 1.2 million Syrian refugees, roughly half of whom (approximately 672,000) are registered with UNHCR. An additional 5.7 million have fled to Turkey and neighboring Lebanon.
Faced with a massive influx of refugees since civil war broke out in 2011, the Government of Jordan has been tasked with integrating refugees into local communities while simultaneously working to eradicate poverty and improve inequality among Jordanian citizens. The international community is struggling to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis in a way that provides for refugees’ humanitarian needs, ensures the stability of host countries’ political and economic institutions, and prevents radicalization among affected groups. As a result, many non-profits and intergovernmental organizations have come together to implement programs that support both the refugees and host communities. As part of a larger study on Syrian refugee livelihoods in Jordan, CEGA Faculty Director Ted Miguel (UC Berkeley) and CEGA affiliate Sandra Rozo (USC) are conducting a randomized control trial (RCT) that evaluates the effectiveness of one such program.
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Urban Shelter Program subsidizes housing for Syrian refugees- either through a one-time cash transfer to the refugees themselves, allowing them to pay their full rents, or through the renovation of Jordanian-owned properties in exchange for lower rents for refugees. Though there is copious anecdotal evidence to suggest that this program has improved the lives of refugees throughout Jordan, the Norwegian Refugee Council invited CEGA to conduct an impact evaluation in an effort to better understand how subsidized housing affects economic outcomes for refugees and host communities over time. The research team, led by Miguel and Rozo, will assess the effects of different levels of assistance over time by comparing the outcomes of those who do not receive assistance to those who do. Approximately 2,500 households will participate in the experiment, with 70% receiving assistance and 30% not receiving assistance (at least for the duration of the study).
The economic integration of refugees is a major public policy issue, particularly in countries like Jordan where refugees comprise a significant portion of the total population (almost 9%). The research team and NRC believe that by offering subsidies that benefit both Syrian and Jordanian families, and by empowering Syrians to identify housing options that increase their ability to work (and for their children to attend school), the Urban Shelter Program may prove to be a win-win model. This could have major implications for the design of similar programs, and of public policies that foster refugee integration and reduce persistent socio-economic inequalities.
Yet despite the intellectual and policy importance of this issue, few studies to date have been able to rigorously document the impacts of such programs for refugees and host communities, especially in the Syrian case. We seek to fill this gap in the literature by collecting data on the long-term effects of these programs.
The Bigger Picture
Though responses to the global refugee crisis tend to focus on immediate aid and short-term goals, we must think about individual refugee recovery and the stability and state capacity of host countries over a longer time horizon. Committed to CEGA’s mission of producing new ideas and insights that can be translated into policy, the Syrian Refugee Life Study (S-RLS) research team plans to use the baseline survey for the RCT as the first round of data for a full panel study. The S-RLS panel dataset will be among the first systematic efforts to survey a large, representative sample of refugees and follow that sample over time. The survey will target approximately 5,000 Syrian refugees: 3,500 (70%) living in Jordanian host communities and 1,500 (30%) living in the refugee camps of Zaatari and Azraq. The S-RLS aims to provide detailed, long-term data on refugees’ economic and physical well-being as well as social and behavioral outcomes, including social cohesion. This comprehensive and representative data will provide policymakers with important insights into the long-run effects of various responses to the refugee crisis, and offer credible insight to guide future policy-making in this space.
In the coming months, the research team will be working hard to pilot the first survey, which will serve as the basis of both the randomized control trial and the larger panel study. Initial data are expected in Summer 2019. Keep checking the CEGA Blog for updates on this and other exciting projects!