On Saturday the BBC World Service programme ‘World Hacks’ focused on the issue of ‘Jobs for Syrian Refugees’. Most refugees around the world do not have the right to work. This programme looks at ‘an interesting and controversial experiment’ in Jordan that involves giving work permits to Syrian refugees to let them work legally, in specific sectors. This idea was first proposed in 2015 by Professor Alexander Betts (RSC Director) and Professor Sir Paul Collier (Blavatnik School of Government).
In the programme, Betts explains: “Jordan is trying to make the leap to manufacturing. It’s a middle-income country, and it’s got arid areas of the country that are under-populated and don’t receive investment… If we can imagine the presence of refugees not being seen as a burden, but as a benefit to allow Jordan to do that development in those areas, that could benefit refugees and it could benefit the hosts. Now, imagine, ultimately, that we could have border cities that host refugees when they come across the border, not just now but potentially in the future, that also help with the development of the country. That’s the vision that I think we’re aspiring to.” He suggests that instead of refugee camps “could we have campuses, could we have environments more like a university campus… where people can flourish? They can have job opportunities, they can have education opportunities, and they can go back more empowered than when they arrived.”
As the programme reports, in January 2016, the West promised “investment and trade incentives to stimulate manufacturing jobs in return for Jordan offering 200,000 work permits to Syrians.” The King Hussein Bin Talal Special Economic Zone in the Jordanian desert is one area benefitting, as the programme goes on to illustrate. However, there are a number of problems that will need to be overcome, particularly concerning the high unemployment in Jordan and the ‘double standards’ of the West – essentially paying other countries to do something that we will not.
Betts argues that “It’s worth bearing in mind that the refugee system has always worked like that, it’s always worked on the basis that rich countries that are distanced from the countries that produce refugees have engaged in a form of cheque-book diplomacy. They’ve paid the host countries to provide assistance. But the basis on which they’ve historically paid them is to provide food, clothing, blankets, in ways that warehouse people in camps. We’re not going to challenge the structures of global inequality, but what we can do is improve the lives of people within the constraints of some of those structures.”
As the programme states, the question now is whether the experiment will be implemented sufficiently to be allowed to fulfil its potential.
Listen to the programme here >>