By Khetam Malkawi – Dec 16,2015 – JORDAN TIMES
A Syrian refugee sells vegetables at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, some 90km northeast of Amman, earlier this year (Photo by Muath Freij)
AMMAN — The World Bank on Wednesday said it is working with the Jordanian and the UK governments to set up “enterprise zones” where both Jordanians and Syrian refugees are allowed to work, a senior bank official said on Wednesday.
If the plan works out, the World Bank hopes that the European Union will give incentives to enterprises to invest in these zones as products will be manufactured by refugees, said Shanta Devarajan, chief economist at the World Bank for the Middle East and North Africa region.
The planned zones will receive international investments and provide job opportunities for both refugees, who are currently not allowed to work, and Jordanians to alleviate the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the country.
“We hope to have something running in the next six months,” as these zones will also enable Jordan to be a location for international chains, Devarajan added at a press conference in Washington, in which The Jordan Times participated by phone.
However, before helping Syrian refugees, “we have to make sure that Jordanians” can also grow their economy, he noted at the press conference, held by the World Bank to launch “The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon” report.
According to Devarajan, 15 million people fled their homes in the region and most of them are in fiscally stressed countries like Jordan and Lebanon that are classified as middle-income countries and do not have access to World Bank loans with high levels of debt.
Speakers at the press conference talked about the economic inclusion of Syrian refugees in host countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon, as a solution for the poverty that most refugees live under.
‘Broadening the focus’
Economic inclusion was the main recommendation in the World Bank report, which suggests “broadening the focus of mitigating the refugee crisis from assistance to economic inclusion, which should also become a critical part of the growth and development strategy for areas hosting refugees”.
According to the report, short-term cash and food assistance programmes, while effective, rely entirely on voluntary contributions, and due to funding limitations, only the most vulnerable refugees are assisted.
“These programmes must therefore be paired with medium- and long-term policies and programmes that allow refugees and host communities alike to benefit,” the report added.
The joint report released by the World Bank and UNHCR indicated that nearly nine in 10 registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan are either poor or expected to be in the near future and the majority are women.
The nearly 1.7 million Syrians who are registered in Jordan and Lebanon live in precarious circumstances, the report said, adding that refugees have few legal rights, and face constrained access to public services.
“We have a collective responsibility to respond to the humanitarian and development crises unfolding in the Middle East and to act on the immediate consequences as well as on the underlying causes of conflict. We should spare no efforts to put the MENA region on the path of stability, peace and prosperity for all,” a World Bank statement quoted Hafez Ghanem, vice president for Middle East and North Africa Region, as saying.
The report offers a snapshot in 2014 of who these refugees are and their welfare, according to the statement.
Compared with the pre-crisis population of Syria, they are younger (81 per cent under the age of 35, compared with 73 per cent); are more likely to be children (close to 20 per cent are children aged 0-4, compared with 11 per cent); and tend to be single (over 60 per cent).
Poverty among refugees is widespread and expected to worsen in the near future. In 2014, seven in 10 registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon could be considered poor. Beyond poverty, a majority of these refugees are also vulnerable to both monetary and food shocks. There is also evidence that poverty has risen in Jordan between 2013 and 2015, the statement said.
With less than half of school-aged Syrian refugee children living in Jordan currently enrolled in public schools, human capital is also deteriorating for young refugees, the statement added.
Responding to the schooling, training and healthcare needs of these young refugees, it said, will have long-term development benefit.
Speaking at the press conference, Paolo Verme, World Bank Group senior economist for poverty global practice, said that through this report “we wanted to understand” whether current policies work.
Policies that include direct cash assistance provided by UNHCR and food vouchers have an impact on alleviating poverty among refugees, but the assistance is declining, Verme added.
He underscored the economic inclusion of refugees as a long-term solution. “We need to think of economic solutions to include both refugees and host communities.”
In its statement, the World Bank said it will continue its close collaboration with UNHCR and other key partners to provide advice, analysis, and support to turn a humanitarian crisis into a development opportunity.