Economic solutions to the refugee crisis

A Palestinian mother comforts her child. Poverty is rampant in the Palestinian territories, especially Gaza.

Traditional ways of helping refugees no longer work on their own as the world faces the worst crisis of displaced persons since the Second World War. Economic inclusion is the only way forward, with attendees of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos calling for a paradigm shift in the way the world’s 60 million refugees are given help.

“We are willing to create economic zones where refugees can find employment,” said Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, whose country hosts 1.3m refugees. Foreign and domestic investors can relocate supply chains there and equip refugees with skills that they can later bring back to their homelands once peace returns. As a further incentive, refugee-made products can be granted preferential access by other countries.

Refugees need to have independence and economic self-sufficiency, Queen Rania added, or else they lose hope and could become vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. She noted that the average time spent as a refugee is now 17 years. Jordan alone cannot deal with the problem. International aid pays for only 36 percent of refugee upkeep, with the government relying on borrowing to finance the rest.

Donor countries are beginning to recognize the need to change their approach. “We need to tackle the problem in a different way,” said Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation, the Digital Agenda,

Telecommunications and Postal Services of Belgium. He called for tearing down the wall between short-term humanitarian action and long-term development, so refugees can gain access to education, labor markets and other benefits.

Aid organizations are also beginning to develop new tools and approaches, said Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva. He said humanitarian impact bonds will be launched as an innovative way to finance development projects for refugees.

The private sector has a key role to play, said Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani. His US-based company, which makes Greek-style yoghurt, started hiring refugees five years ago. Businesses in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are stepping up, but attendees said companies and governments in the Arabian Gulf states can do more.

“What we face is really a global issue,” said Mehmet Simsek, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey. “It’s a global problem that requires a global solution.” Turkey is doing its part by granting work permits to the 2.5m Syrian refugees on its soil and providing education to 700,000 children of school age, in addition to healthcare and other services in general.

The bombing of urban areas must also be stopped, said Simsek, because this creates new waves of refugees and internally displaced persons. “We need to deal with the root cause,” he added, referring particularly to the Syrian crisis. The Deputy PM reaffirmed Turkey’s open-door policy and the provision of a safe haven to displaced persons of all ethnicities and religions.

Speaking on Syrian refugees in particular, German President Joachim Gauck said that measures by his government to limit the numbers of refugees entering the country are “extremely likely” to be introduced.

Such a limitation strategy is “morally and politically necessary to preserve the state’s ability to function,” he added.