Yesterday, Professor Alexander Betts spoke on the CBC Radio programme ‘Ideas from the Trenches - Refuge’ about the need for ‘progressive solutions’ to refugee crises. Drawing from a recent article in Foreign Affairs, co-written with Sir Paul Collier (Blavatnik School of Government), Betts spoke of the situation facing the 83,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. Here some are returning to Syria due to the lack of opportunities, or hope, for them in Za’atari, where they are not allowed to work.
But just 15 minutes away is a special economic development zone currently in need of labour and inward investment. Therefore, he suggests, “what if that economic zone could be converted to allow refugees the right to work alongside Jordanian host nationals, they could be provided with vocational training opportunities, educational opportunities.” And he asks, could this stimulate businesses to locate to the area, and allow Syrian businesses, unable to operate in Syria, to relocate until they can go home, and allow refugees to start up their own businesses? This, he says, would also help Jordan to develop its manufacturing sector.
He added that in an ideal world, refugee camps would not be required; full integration is the ideal. But where camps have to exist, they should be places of opportunity, where people are empowered until they can go home, and have choices.
He comments that, “at the moment, the choice that refugees face in Jordan is to be passively sitting in refugee camps with access controls and no right to work; to go home to Syria and face violence; to embark on perilous journeys to Europe; or attempt to survive in urban areas with almost no humanitarian assistance.”