The Refugee Crisis: What can we learn from World Bank programmes?

The refugee crisis has garnered a fair share of attention over the past few years. It has frequented headlines and influenced politics, with Western Europe and the United States seeing the rise of far right movements. While fear mongering of refugees has grown in relation with the Syrian refugee and asylum seeker movements since 2011, the facts often support a very different narrative. The image below shows, as of December 2016, the top host countries for refugees globally. The countries with the largest refugee populations are Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon. Overall, 86% of refugees are hosted in developing countries.

The World’s Top Ten Refugee Host Countries | Amnesty International

While Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan are housing the majority of refugees their status as middle income countries makes it difficult to support those numbers. Middle income countries are defined as, “having a per capita gross national income of US$1,026 to $12,475 (2011) and are a diverse group by size, population, and income level.” In recognition of this, different programs and aid packages have been put together to offer funding and resources to countries supporting the majority of asylum seekers as a result of the violence Syria has endured.

One such initiative is the Global Concessional Financing Facility (CFF), a World Bank initiative launched in 2016 to help alleviate some of the financial burdens host countries are experiencing from the Syrian refugee crisis. The CFF, partners with the United Nations and the Islamic Development Bank Group as well as multiple donor nations. So far, pledges for the program have come from Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom, Netherlands, United States, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Norway and European Commission totalling $227.59 million. These pledges make up the ‘concessional loans’, which are loans that are offered at significantly lower interest rates with often-longer grace periods compared to market loans. These loans, geared specifically at Jordan and Lebanon, are designed to offer international aid to middle income countries who usually are not qualified to receive this type of support.

The CFF program offers a collective response that has been absent from Western country’s reactions to offering support to the millions who have been forcefully uprooted. The initial response to the crisis consisted of Western countries constantly punting responsibility to other countries and seeing who could close their borders the fastest. Germany and Sweden can be recognised for their support despite other EU country’s ‘not in my backyard’ policies and rhetoric.  However, this program is strictly pledging financial support as no country is offering to alleviate the ‘burden’ by housing or resettling a certain number of refugees.  Throwing money at a problem has become somewhat of a modus operandi for Western countries with the range of excuses from ‘cultural incompatibility’ to ‘overwhelming numbers to accommodate’.

The media has emphasised the surge of Syrian refugees coming to make a new start in Europe. The graph below provides the numbers of asylum seekers who have made their way into Europe and filed for asylum since 2011. In 2016, there were a little over 1.2 million applications for asylum spread across Europe. 1.2 million asylum seekers is around the same number that Lebanon alone is hosting and at least a million shy of what Turkey and Jordan are each hosting individually. The distribution was not evenly spread across Europe with the majority of asylum applications being submitted in Germany. In 2015, Germany had around 400,000 applications for asylum filed.

Asylum Applications to the EU from 2006-2016 (thousands) | Eurostat

There are currently 4 projects that are being supported by the CCF. The ‘Economic Opportunities for Jordanians and Syrians’ focuses on providing economic opportunities and work permits for Syrians living in Jordan. Granting legal work permits to Syrians refugees allows them to be self-sufficient and reduces the financial burden and dependency on the host country. The ‘Ain Ghazal Wastewater Project’ is supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and focuses on infrastructure improvements in Jordan. The project works in Jordan’s host communities to improve the wastewater infrastructure that has been strained by the increased population.

In addition to these, two further projects have received concessional approval including the ‘Lebanon Roads and Employment’ and ‘Jordan Energy and Water DPL’. The ‘Lebanon Roads and Employment’ project seeks to both improve transportation infrastructure as well as provide employment opportunities for Syrian refugees. The construction industry is the main focus for job opportunities in this project with a target set at 1.5 million labour days of direct short term jobs to be created for Syrian refugees. Lastly, the ‘Jordan Energy and Water DPL’ seeks to alleviate pressures put on the water and electricity sectors from the increased consumption levels. These projects differ from the other aid responses to the Syrian refugee crisis because they offer long term support instead of targeted short term relief. This is a welcomed transition that will allow Syrian refugees the opportunity to be self-sufficient and contribute to their host societies instead of being warehoused in camps. Offering support, and improving the host communities also reduces local resentment and animosity towards refugees who are seen as depleting local resources.

However, the reality is middle income countries are, and have been supporting, a much larger share of the displaced both in terms of overall numbers and relative to the population size. With no end to the Syrian conflict in sight, Western countries should continue the momentum of this initiative and finalise a program of responsibility sharing that includes the resettlement of displaced persons. A more permanent and useful solution to the refugee crisis should consider both financial and resettlement initiatives so asylum seekers and refugees are given the opportunity for self-sufficiency, security, and inclusion.

Feature Image: UN Migration Agency | Flickr


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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