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Event organized by the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), the World Bank Group and the United Nations, with support from AFD (Agence Francaise de Développement).
The five year Syrian conflict is having disastrous humanitarian, social and economic consequences both in Syria and in neighboring countries. With over 220,000 dead and about 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians (IDPs), the Mashreq region and Turkey are facing an unprecedented and protracted refugee crisis that places an extraordinary burden on host countries and communities. Syrians have massively fled their country, and the number of registered Syrian refugees in the Mashreq has reached more than 4 million, while 500,000 have already applied for asylum in Europe as of September 2015 (UNHCR), more than half of which are under the age of 18. Syria’s neighboring countries are bearing the brunt of the Syrian conflict’s regional impacts, placing additional strain on the scarce resources and fragile economies of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Indeed, refugees fleeing conflict spend substantive time in their host country before beginning to return in small numbers. The refugee situation is bound to last, and is already showing spillover effects in Europe. Host countries are providing the international community with a global public good, and need to be supported in return by the international community. If left unaddressed, the refugee crisis will have dire socio-economic and political consequences in the Mediterranean region and host countries alike.
As the Syrian crisis rages on, humanitarian and development organizations are coming together to bridge the historical divide between their approaches. For the first time, the World Bank Group and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have joined forces to share and analyze data on Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon in order not only to better understand the welfare of refugees, but also to help create a more sustainable system to address their needs. An in-depth understanding of the poverty situation affecting refugees is all the more important in order to identify ways of turning elements of the crisis into opportunities. Indeed, international experiences have shown that under certain circumstances, refugees can contribute to their host countries’ economies by becoming economic actors in their own right. Yet, analytics are still scarce on the potential for the transition of “refugees as a liability” to “refugees as an asset”.
The joint WB/UNHCR report “The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon”, and its policy recommendations will be launching this first discussion. The report sheds light on the socio-economic situation of Syrian refugees in both countries, and warns against the poverty trap refugees could fall into, arguing that this would be a policy impasse for refugees, host governments, host communities, and the future of Syria alike. It presents valuable analytical data and insights into the economic welfare and labor market impact of refugee communities in the Mashreq, and illustrates the extent to which the welfare of refugee and host communities are inextricably linked. This implies that economic welfare and inclusion policies must address refugee and host communities together in order to succeed. Lebanon and Jordan in particular have especially valuable experiences to share in this regard.
The second focus of this event will address the mid-term issue of refugees building livelihood and self-reliance through the creation of economic opportunities, based on the White Paper entitled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis in the Medium-Term: What Next?” This paper lays out important policy recommendations on how to build on short-term humanitarian objectives for refugee relief in order to work towards refugee welfare in the medium-term. In order to succeed, steps towards ensuring the success of refugee return must be taken now, and humanitarian and development organizations have an essential role to play in launching this process. Indeed, the Report and White Paper that form the backbone of this discussion illustrate the analytical and operational gains that take place when humanitarian (UNHCR) and development (WB) actors join forces.
Furthermore, this discussion will open a cross-regional exchange between Middle Eastern and European hosting countries by facilitating knowledge-sharing between MENA host countries as well as South-North exchanges to help European host countries learn from their Mashreq counterparts, who have been hosting Syrian refugee populations for four years. Indeed, the middle-income countries of the Mashreq are coping with a significant increase in refugees, thereby gaining significant experiences which can inform for host communities’ efforts across the Mediterranean.
1) Promoting a new social contract needed to address Syrian refugees’ and host communities’ welfare
The protracted nature of the refugee crisis and its impact on host countries has shifted this crisis from being a purely humanitarian challenge to a humanitarian and development one. We are facing a long term crisis that needs to be managed through long-term solutions and engagement sustained by a continuum of humanitarian and development actions.
It is essential to help refugees to help themselves by increasing their self-sufficiency and becoming agents of their future and that of the eventual reconstruction of Syria Refugees should be able to use theirs skills and potential to support themselves and the communities hosting them. Education and training are key to saving the lost generation of refugee youth and children that have been out of school since the start of the crisis, and are crucial to the process of Syrian reconstruction in the future.
2) Key proposals to boost refugee integration and local economic growth
Lebanon and Jordan in particular are providing the world with a global public good and need far more support than they are currently receiving from the international community. Refugee influx is severely affecting job markets and the distribution of income, while fostering resentment amongst local communities and placing strain on scarce resources. European participants acknowledged the difference of the scale of the crisis affecting Europe compared to the situation in the Mashreq and Turkey.
Coupling emergency humanitarian work to mid-term and holistic development approaches can encourage local economic opportunities involving refugees to emerge. These new growth opportunities can mitigate the impacts of refugee hosting on host communities. Refugee profiling and skills assessment are key to matching refugee skills with existing labor demand and identifying how new job opportunities for refugees can be provided.
Encouraging contacts between local populations and refugees to encourage a shift in attitudes is a crucial aspect of maintaining social peace and cohesion, notably through common activities, language exchanges and improved refugee mobility. It is important to involve refugees in program design rather than designing programs for them.
UNESCWA called for a paradigm shift to include a Syrian dimension in development policies, including encouraging investments in stable parts of Syria as of now in order to lay the ground for the country’s future reconstruction. Syria’s reconstruction has the potential to be an opportunity for regional growth and integration.
3) From analytics to operations: how to build up on the report, white paper, and the conference
The White Paper “The Syrian Refugee Crisis in the Medium-Term: What next?” presented at this event provided for important recommendations aimed at addressing the poverty trap threatening Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in the “medium term” by fostering local economic growth and economic inclusion. The pledges of the London conference can contribute to that, but the specific needs will need to be fully integrated into the Response Plans prepared by Lebanon and Jordan.
Participants acknowledged the need to continue exchanging on these questions through multi-partner and multi-stakeholder knowledge-sharing events, which are important catalysts of policy adjustments and consensus- building on how to address Syrian refugee and host countries and communities welfare.
In terms of financing host countries, instead of engaging in pilot programs, it is necessary to scale-up existing solutions and transcend silo approaches between IFIs (e.g. blending grants with loans and buying down interest on loans from Multilateral Development Agencies to increase overall concessionality) in order to provide financial support to these host countries.
It is also essential to encourage market access for Lebanon and Jordanian goods to the European Union in order to support their economies.
Read the proceedings of the discussions here.
[Proceedings] Launch of the Joint WB/UNHCR Report: “The Welfare of Syrian Refugees. Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon” - Cross-Regional Learning Event between the Mashreq and Europe on Hosting Refugees
View all photos directly on Flickr here.