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One Solution to Fears about Importing Jihad to the US: A Plan for Refugees to Stay Home

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UNHCR/J. Ose

John Burger - published on 11/20/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Masses of refugees have already relocated to other countries in the Middle East

Congress has voted to “pause” President Obama’s plan to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. More than half of US governors have said they will not allow the refugees to settle in their states. Worries that a wave of refugees from the Middle East will bring more terrorism to these shores increased when it was thought that one of the Paris attackers had come into Europe as a refugee.

Now, two Oxford experts on migration and refugees have proposed a plan to keep Syrians who are fleeing the civil war and Islamic jihad close to home.

The plan would encourage economic development in countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, which have much higher proportions of refugees than any European countries, and help provide work and schooling for many of the refugees until the situation in Syria is settled and they can return home.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier point out that a large majority of Syrian refugees have gone “not to refugee camps or to Europe but to Amman, Beirut, and other Middle Eastern cities to work, often illegally and for low pay. Some 83 percent of Jordan’s refugees live in cities—around 170,000 in Amman alone. Their situation is clearly unsustainable.”

In Jordan, Betts and Collier suggest integrating displaced Syrians into specially created economic zones, “offering Syrian refugees employment and autonomy, incubating businesses in preparation for the eventual end of the civil war in Syria, and aiding Jordan’s aspirations for industrial development.”

Betts is director of the Refugee Studies Centre, and Collier is professor of economics and public policy, both at the University of Oxford.

Refugee camps and some urban areas could be reconceived as industrial incubator zones, where displaced Syrians could gain access to education, training, and the right to work. The international community could encourage, through financial incentives and trade concessions, two types of businesses to set up operations in these zones: international firms that would employ both Syrian refugees and Jordanian nationals in defined proportions and Syrian firms unable to operate in their country of origin, which might be permitted to employ exclusively refugees. Should there be peace in Syria, these firms could relocate.

In fact, the authors point out, Jordan already has several special economic zones (SEZs) in the areas where refugees have amassed. “There is a huge and nearly empty industrial zone in the eastern Mafraq Governorate, around ten miles from the Zaatari refugee camp, the largest one in Jordan,” Betts and Collier say.

The authors argue that not only would this approach relieve some of the pressure Western countries are feeling from the refugee crisis, it also would help maintain dignity for the people fleeing horrific conditions.

Some 54 percent of the world’s refugees have lived in exile for more than five years, often without freedom of movement or the right to work. For such refugees, the average length of exile is around 17 years. These long-term displaced are expected to wait for a so-called durable solution, by which some state, whether their own or another, can reintegrate them into peaceful society. As a result, their lives are put on hold. This need not be the case.

This is not the first effort to give Syrians a motivation to stay close to home. In Aleppo, Greek Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart has established a program called “Build to Stay,” which is meant to rebuild infrastructures to help local Christians get work, housing, education and health care.

Numerous Western aid agencies have been providing medical care and schooling. Catholic Relief Services is working with the Catholic Church in Jordan to provide education to refugee Syrian and Iraqi children, a project that was given a boost with a Nov. 15 donation of $500,000 from the Knights of Columbus.

Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastRefugeesSyria
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