Cash for work: The big plan at tomorrow’s London Syria aid conference

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 3, 2016
Lebanon and Jordan bear the brunt of the refugee crisis

Lebanon and Jordan bear the brunt of the refugee crisis

Tomorrow (February 4) is the annual Syrian aid conference in London and Germany will float its big new idea for helping refugees. (Click here for the website of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference.)

Give them jobs in their immediate neighbourhood, in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and save the harried Syrians from difficult journeys to cold foreign locations in Europe.

The plan, revealed last week by Gerd Mueller, Germany’s minister for economic cooperation on a visit to Jordan, is supposed to create half-a-million jobs with two billion euros of funding.

The money is supposed to be raised internationally.

The Return on Investment is pretty clear. Mr Mueller is reported to claim that it is “20 times more effective” to spend resources on refugees in the region than on accommodating them in Europe.

It would also ease the pressures on European governments, which are feeling the backlash as their alarmed populations face the prospect of a ceaseless flow of large numbers of Syrian refugees. But can it happen?

AP reported Mr Mueller’s explanation of the scheme as follows: “…it would employ Syrian refugees, but also unemployed Jordanians … in building schools, infrastructure.” Each worker would receive 300 euros ($325) a month.

That sounds like pretty good takings for a fleeing Syrian (or an unemployed Jordanian). Turkey recently agreed to offer work permits to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but it’s not clear if Jordan and Lebanon will do the same. Or indeed, some of the other countries in the region.

Regional inhospitality to the refugees is a big reason they leave for Europe. It sounds niggardly to question the region’s response considering that the burden is largely borne by Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. But the reality is that once they stream in, they get to stay packed into camps and denied the paperwork that would allow them to rebuild their lives. Till the war ends. If it ends.