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  • Simon Mühlbauer

The Jordan Response Plan: A new tool for aid coordination?

This article forms part of the Policy Shift Migration and Integration Series, edited by Jennie Cottle (Policy Shift Co-Founder and Adjunct Faculty at Sciences Po) and Anna Piccinni (Associate Fellow Columbia University City Diplomacy Lab, OECD).


Introduction

Foreign aid has enabled development and progress in many parts of the world. However, ineffective use and targeting of high levels of foreign aid can lead to aid dependency. Aid dependency is an economic and political dilemma characterized by a country’s dependence on foreign aid. It frequently leads to adverse effects, such as rent-seeking, lack of project ownership, and conflict (Knack, 2001). Additionally, donor countries have used foreign aid as a geostrategic policy tool to advance their agendas (Stanford, 2015).


This article builds upon existing work analyzing how foreign aid influences migration and asylum policies in developing countries of origin, transit or destination (Bermeo & Leblang, 2015). Focusing on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (hereafter Jordan), this article looks at Jordan’s response to the historic inflows of migrants and its management of foreign aid. It will draw conclusions on how this country avoided falling into the dependency trap by analyzing the Jordan Response Plan to the Syria Crisis (JRP) and if the same lessons could be replicated in other developing countries hosting migrants and refugees.


Methodology

Jordan was chosen as a case study because of its historically high levels of foreign aid and geopolitical importance as a regionally strategic partner and major host for refugees and migrants. Yet, experts agree that Jordan is not dependent on the aid nor at risk of falling into aid dependency. Therefore, the analysis of Jordan provides interesting insights into how aid recipient governments maintain political ownership of their migration and reception policies.


This article focuses on foreign aid in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from OECD countries (OECD, n.d.-a), as Jordan receives mostly traditional ODA (MoPIC, 2021)[i]. Focusing on the impact of the Syrian crisis, this article primarily deals with asylum and refugees rather than other forms of migration. A refugee is defined in accordance with the UN as “persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international production (UN, 2016)[ii].


The analysis is based on three sets of sources. First, the academic literature provides insights into the theory of aid dependency, which complements the analysis of Jordan’s response. Secondly, official documents from governments and international organizations are included to assess the situation in Jordan. Finally, a series of interviews with stakeholders in the development sector of Jordan adds to the analysis of the previously mentioned documents. Interviews were conducted between February and April 2022 with technical staff at the European Union Delegation in Amman and Beirut and the German Development Bank KfW.


Theory

This article employs the theory of aid dependency to analyze the effects of foreign aid in Jordan and understand how Jordan has managed not to fall into the trap of aid dependency. Historically, aid has been the reaction of wealthier countries to the global imbalance of economic progress. However, it has become a strategic factor in a more interventionist global development strategy (Collinson, 2013). Aid dependency established an economic dilemma characterized by less developed countries’ dependence on more developed countries’ financial assistance. Dependency can be measured in terms of the percentage of government spending that is funded by foreign contributors, with 15 – 20% identified as a tipping point at which aid begins to have negative consequences.


Studies have shown that dependency is controlled by various factors, most notably the length and intensity of the donation period (Mi. A. Clemens et al., 2011). Responding to the ineffective use of aid, hindered by factors such as corruption, donors have become increasingly involved in the political process by allocating finance directly to specific programs or through conditionalities, thus choosing priority areas of development in the recipient country (Knack, 2001). Thus, foreign agendas have heavily influenced receiving nations’ political priorities. Consequently, governments are often held accountable by their donors rather than by the public, which jeopardizes government legitimacy and delays political change and development (Bräutigam, 2000). To address the accountability gap and other risks related to foreign aid, in 2005 donors and beneficiaries agreed upon the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and reaffirmed these principles during subsequent conferences. Two major principles for good foreign aid and avoiding aid dependency are ownership and alignment. It had become evident that for foreign aid to be most effective, recipient countries needed to define and develop their strategies and own the process. Donors were then to align their activities behind these objectives (OECD, n.d.-b).


Literature Review

This article contributes to the growing literature on the intersection between migration, foreign aid, and the issue of aid dependency. Several studies have analyzed how donor countries use foreign aid strategically to have an impact on migration flows. Studies have also explained how countries of origin receive support for strengthening their borders and immigration controls (Bermeo, 2010; Bermeo & Leblang, 2015). Other studies have presented the role of migrant communities as lobby groups in donor countries based on their potential to influence foreign aid objectives (Berthélemy et al., 2009).


Since migration to Europe increased in 2015, foreign aid activism has been renewed based on the goal to deter migration from the Global South. Several major ODA contributors now target their development programs at what they define as the root causes of migration (M. A. Clemens & Postel, 2018). However, addressing these root causes often becomes increasingly tied to the condition of taking back refugees or preventing migration flows – as in the case of the 2016 EU-Turkey Deal (European Commission, n.d.; IRC, 2022; Wallis, 2022). As a result, these types of strategic decisions to shape the objectives of foreign aid appear to contradict the principles defined in the 2005 Paris Declaration and subsequent engagements of the donor community.


Analysis

While the existing literature on the intersection between migration and foreign aid is very much centered on the analysis of the donor countries (exceptions include (Kpodar & Le Goff, 2012)), this article analyzes the Jordan Response Plan (JRP) under the question of a country’s risk of falling into aid dependency. Moreover, this article adds to the literature on Jordan’s role in managing the Syrian refugee crisis, focusing mostly on the humanitarian response (Francis, 2015; Karasapan, 2022).


To better understand the national context, Jordan is a constitutional monarchy located in the MENA region, bordered by Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the State of Israel, and the Palestinian Territories (CIA, 2022). Its population of 10.9 million people (2021 est.) increased in rapid phases of migration inflows due to surrounding conflicts (World Bank, n.d.-b). Today, Jordan’s population identifies dominantly as Jordanian (69.3%), followed by Syrian (13.3%), Palestinian (6.7%), Egyptian (6.7%), and other (4%) minority groups (2015 est.) (CIA, 2022).

Figure 1: CIA, 2022 & World Bank, 2022


The political situation is dominated by economic and political challenges – such as high unemployment and poverty rates. Moreover, scarce natural resources and insufficient water supplies dominate the agenda (UNICEF, n.d.). These challenges have added to the burden of hosting many refugees, increasing Jordan’s need for foreign aid. As a result, Jordan ranks in the top ten ODA recipients (World Bank, n.d.-a). During the Syrian crisis, foreign aid to Jordan increased substantially. Between 2011 and 2019, foreign aid to Jordan increased by 500%, of which 40% stemmed from an increase in grants and 60% from an increase in soft loans, while Jordan’s GDP grew by 50% (MoPIC, n.d.; World Bank, n.d.). This raises concerns regarding the increase of aid vis-à-vis GDP. In 2019, foreign aid equaled 23% of the national budget, at the high end of the tipping point towards aid dependency (Asharq AL-awsat, 2018, MoPIC, n.d.). Furthermore, the major increase in soft loans, which the country will have to repay, will likely make the government more reliant on debtors in the future. While all this would appear to contribute to an existing and increasing dependency, experts agree that Jordan has not fallen into the dependency trap, nor is the country at severe risk of doing so.

Figure 2: MoPIC, n.d.


The reason behind this is the strong coordination role Jordan takes regarding its donors through the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MoPIC), which is “the focal point for all ministries and government institutions, and foreign grants from donating countries and international funding institutions, etc.” (MoPIC, n.d.). MoPIC is the key government ministry in charge of the JRP, a pioneering tool for aid coordination utilizing a three-year plan. The JRP is prepared in coordination with various ministries and government institutions and in consultation with donor countries and UN organizations. This allows key stakeholders from the international community to be involved while ensuring the government’s control of the process.


The JRP is a holistic management tool, mainstreaming the impact of hosting Syrian refugees across all the dimensions of Jordan’s overall development needs. Through this holistic approach, the JRP manages the risk of aid dependency. The interviewees consulted for this article agreed that Jordan could not handle the financial burden should foreign aid be reduced. Simultaneously, none of them considered a major reduction of aid a possibility as the JRP creates an obligation on the side of the international community by clearly establishing the cost that Jordan faces by hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, a cost the international community pledged to assist with. For instance, in 2019, the JRP found that only 50% of its needs were met because the pledges made by the international community were not entirely fulfilled (Government of Jordan, n.d.). This allowed it to establish clear future financing needs as an obligation of the international community. Moreover, the JRP offers one comprehensive framework to deal with the support for refugee communities, host communities, and national development.


While the JRP was established to coordinate aid for Syrian refugees, it is now a key tool of aid coordination across all sectors. As most Syrian refugees in Jordan live in host communities (80.5%) and not in camps, the JRP informs all development plans in Jordan regarding the added burden of hosting Syrian refugees (Karasapan, 2022). Using one framework allows for best practices to be identified and applied while avoiding project duplication. Finally, the JRP includes the needs of refugees and host communities in the national development plan, thus creating a more inclusive approach (MoPIC, n.d.). The plan outlines the financial needs of each sector affected by the crisis, which provides essential information to donors and where their support is needed. MoPIC, as the one focal point, can coordinate the implementation of the JRP rather than dealing with multiple approaches from different donors.


Conclusions

The JRP, in many ways, works toward achieving the commitments of the 2005 Paris Declaration. The government owns the development process and defines strategic objectives in consultation with the international community, which aligns its development assistance to these objectives. In addition, as the burden of handling the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian refugees has grown, governments worldwide have pledged to support Jordan. The JRP clearly outlines the financial needs based on official UN assessments and, thus, helps to hold the donor community accountable for meeting their obligations towards Jordan and the Syrian refugees and manages the risk of aid dependency.


However, there remains room for improvement. For instance, local stakeholders, such as members of the host communities and the refugees themselves, are often not directly included in the consultations. Instead, policymakers and development partners operating in the host communities speak on their behalf. While this makes the JRP more inclusive than other formats, lack of involvement from the host community members limits the local ownership of the plan. Moreover, to implement such a holistic framework, Jordan relies on a highly centralized approach through MoPIC, which strengthens Jordan’s role vis-à-vis international partners in the negotiations. However; this centralized system also comes with some challenges. Due to the high-level of concentrated control, solutions are often designed in a top-down approach and do not sufficiently consider individual, local complexities. Moreover, MoPIC’s responsibilities have made a large bureaucracy necessary to manage the development needs of the entire country and all international partners, which has created inefficiencies in the system. By involving the governorates (Jordan’s twelve administrative divisions), into the consultation process and management of the JRP, MoPIC could focus on the coordination function with its international partners. This could increase the efficiency and local ownership and improve transparency and accountability, while building local capacity.


Despite these limitations, the JRP serves as an innovative tool for a small country like Jordan to take control over its development process vis-à-vis big donor countries and to ensure the impact of receiving refugee populations is considered across all socioeconomic dimensions and not as a silos. With migration becoming increasingly politicized and foreign aid used as a geopolitical tool, the JRP offers a way to hold donors accountable to their pledges and assure aid independence.


A holistic framework such as the JRP has numerous possible applications. Jordan showcases how a country receiving high migration flows can utilize such a plan to maintain control over the interests of foreign partners. Countries that, like Jordan, host large numbers of refugees from surrounding conflict or internally displaced persons, like Ethiopia or Iraq, could benefit from such a plan. However, other applications can and should be envisioned. For example, beyond the cost of hosting refugees, countries are increasingly relying upon aid to tackle the effects of climate change. The island states in the South Pacific Ocean, such as Tuvalu, are threatened by rising sea levels, which has led to an increased cost for governments to manage adaptation and mitigation. While the international community has pledged support for climate adaptation and mitigation, affected countries maintain that their needs are not met. Through clear and holistic plans, that are written with the consultation of key stakeholders, aid coordination for countries affected by climate change could be improved. For donor countries and international organizations this would mean having a platform to raise their concerns through consultations without risking driving countries into dependency. Most importantly, by involving local stakeholders, the integration process could become more inclusive and people-centered.


*Simon Mühlbauer is a student at Sciences Po Paris and Freie Universität Berlin, focusing on innovative policy solutions to issues relating to climate change, migration, and green entrepreneurship.


Endnotes

[i] Jordan’s main development partners are national governments (US, EU, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait), International Financial Institutions (World Bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Arab Funds, Islamic Bank for Development, and the Investment Asian Bank for Infrastructure) and various UN organizations.

[ii] This definition applies in the context of Jordan according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Jordan and UNHCR. Even though Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the MoU ensures that Jordan respects the principle of nonrefoulement, that is not sending asylum seekers back to the country of origin where their freedom or life may be threatened. Officially, Syrians fleeing from the crisis have entered Jordan under the Law No. 24 of 1973 on Residence and Foreigners’ Affairs that recognizes them as refugees in the country. As part of the Jordan Response Plan, special arrangements have been made for the Syrian refugee population in Jordan, allowing them to obtain work permits and permits of stay (Jordan, 1973 & UNHCR, 2020).


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