The November/December issue of Foreign Affairs includes an article by Professor Alexander Betts and Professor Sir Paul Collier (Blavatnik School of Government) proposing a new approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. They argue that “An effective refugee policy should improve the lives of the refugees in the short term and the prospects of the region in the long term.” The current panicked approach in Europe, they say, “is premised on the same logic that has characterized refugee policy since the 1950s: donors write checks to support humanitarian relief, and countries that receive refugees are expected to house and care for them, often in camps.” However, this misses the core of the current problem – the countries close to Syria, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, have effectively closed their borders to refugees because they have already taken in so many. And these refugees live in “clearly unsustainable” situations, whether in urban areas without access to international or state assistance, or in camps totally dependent on the aid provided.
Betts and Collier therefore argue that a “fresh approach to the crisis” is clearly needed, stating that “An effective refugee policy should improve the lives of the refugees in the short term and the prospects of the region in the long term, and it should also serve the economic and security interests of the host states.”
They propose the establishment of special economic zones (SEZs) in Jordan where displaced Syrians could work. This approach could provide Syrians with jobs, education and autonomy while advancing Jordan’s industrial development. As the authors note, “Jordan has already established several special economic zones (SEZs) in the same areas that are now inundated with refugees”. For example, the King Hussein Bin Talal Development Area (KHBTDA) is close to Zaatari refugee camp and would, they argue, be an ideal location to begin this initiative.
Furthermore, “By incubating a Syrian economy in exile, Amman could not only tap into resources designated by aid and development organizations for humanitarian relief, as it does now, but also gain access to assistance designated for peacemaking and postconflict reconstruction in fragile states.”
Jordan is already providing assistance to a vast number of Syrian refugees, with little international assistance. As Betts and Collier argue, “When it comes to refugee policy, compassion and enlightened self-interest are not mutually exclusive.”
Read the article here.