A Female Syrian Entrepreneur Builds in Exile - Newsweek
newsweek.com - Sitting behind a large wooden desk in her white hijab, a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, Lara Shaheen looks every bit the modern Arab businesswoman. The only problem is that her business is illegal.
Shaheen, 34, is a refugee from Syria—she fled four years ago after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime arrested her brothers. They were released after three months, but the experience was enough to prompt Shaheen and her family to flee Damascus. Shaheen came to Amman, Jordan, with her mother, father and younger sister, while her brothers escaped to Germany. After that ordeal, her parents developed health problems. With her sister only 17 and her brothers far away, supporting the family was left to Shaheen. “I’m the lonely girl who must work to make money for my family,” she says.
When she first got to Jordan, she volunteered with Hemma, a local organization providing support to Syrian refugees living outside of camps. But after nine months, Shaheen realized she wanted to do more, explaining, “We are staying here for a long time, so you can’t keep giving people handouts.”
With the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year, exile is becoming increasingly permanent for refugees like Shaheen. However, the vast majority are unable to work legally in Jordan. Although they can apply for work permits, obtaining them is a complex and often prohibitively expensive process.
As a result, Jordan’s Ministry of Labor estimates that fewer than 1 percent of refugees there have access to legal work permits, while some 160,000 to 200,000 Syrians are working illegally, without any of the legal protections Jordan’s labor laws offer. This could soon change. In March, Jordanian authorities announcedthat, as part of a new deal with the EU, they would allow up to 200,000 Syrian refugees to work legally.
In April, the government implemented measures to make it easier for Syrians to work, including a temporary waiver of application fees and a 90-day grace period for employers in the informal sector to obtain permits for Syrian refugees. According to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, “this could see up to 78,000 Syrians able to work legally in Jordan in the short term, and thousands more in the coming years.”