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Cindy Huang is co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy and a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. She works on issues related to refugees and displacement, fragile and conflict-affected states, gender equality, and development effectiveness. Previously, Huang was deputy vice president for sector operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation where she led the strategic direction and technical oversight of a $2 billion portfolio of social sector investments. She also served in the Obama Administration as director of policy of the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and as senior advisor to the State Department’s counselor and chief of staff. In her latter role, Huang managed the interagency leadership team of Feed the Future, a presidential initiative launched by a $3.5 billion, three-year commitment to agricultural development and food security. Huang has also worked for Doctors Without Borders and the Human Development Center in Pakistan. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and a BA in Ethics, Politics and Economics from Yale University.
On Monday March 6th, President Trump signed a revised executive order after a federal appeals court blocked the first iteration. The new order differs in a few substantive ways from the first: first, removing Iraq from the list of countries subject to a 90-day travel ban; second, excluding green card holders from travel restrictions; third, eliminating an exemption for refugees who are religious minorities; and finally relaxing the blanket restriction on Syrian refugees. However, the main principles of the executive order remain unchanged and therefore our analysis does as well.
Among the wave of executive orders being developed by the Trump administration, so far two specifically target US commitments to refugees. They are consistent with Trump’s campaign promises to tighten borders and disengage from the world. And, if signed, they would result in serious harm to vulnerable people and alienate allies the United States needs to fight violent extremism and protect American interests.
What the Executive Orders Would Do
Based on available drafts of the executive orders, two directly impact the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The first, “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” suspends USRAP for 120 days to review and strengthen vetting procedures and reduces the overall number of refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000 in fiscal year 2017. Since the Obama administration resettled nearly 26,000 refugees between October and December 2016, only an additional 24,000 refugees could be admitted this fiscal year. The draft executive order (EO) also ends admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely, instead suggesting a plan to create safe areas for temporary resettlement in Syria and the region.
A second draft EO, “Protecting Taxpayer Resources by Ensuring Our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability and Responsibility,” directs the Secretary of State to report on the long-term costs of the USRAP at federal, state and local levels. More broadly, it requires that State Department visa policy better reflect the goals of the EO to deny admission to those with the potential to become a public charge, i.e. recipients of means-tested public benefits.
Why These EOs Are Misguided and Their Implications for Refugees and US Interests
National security vetting for individuals seeking a home in the United States is critical. However, these policy proposals fail to recognize the broader costs of these measures—both to refugees and US national security—and do not reflect an understanding of evidence and past experience.
President Trump has consistently highlighted refugees as a group that carries special risk of having terrorist ties. But refugees already undergo more rigorous screening than anyone else allowed to enter the United States. We have resettled almost one million refugees since September 11, 2001; in this time, not one has been convicted for domestic terror threats, nor has any resettled refugee carried out an attack either within the United States or overseas. A Cato Institute study shows the likelihood of an American dying in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was one in 3.64 billion a year. By comparison, the chance of being murdered each year is one in 14,000; and the likelihood of being struck by lightning in a year is about one in one million. Terrorist acts, by their nature, are designed to generate fear and response beyond their statistical probability. Even taking this into account, the focus on refugees is misplaced and has devastating consequences for vulnerable people fleeing conflict and persecution.
Perhaps more importantly, experience from prior US immigration restrictions shows that ethnically discriminatory immigration policies impair US foreign policy. Migration experts David FitzGerald and David Cook-Martin find the exclusion of Japanese immigrants in 1924 promoted the growth of Japanese militarism against the United States in World War II. Apart from serious moral and ethical concerns, a blanket ban on Syrian refugees as well as all prospective migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries would likely score a propaganda victory for ISIS and other extremist groups. Similar efforts after 9/11 backfired, alienating critical Muslim partners in the fight against terrorism at home and around the world while fueling the extremist narrative that the United States is in a war against Islam.
The request to review the costs of the refugee program is underpinned by the assumption that refugees are at higher than average risk of becoming public charges. While it is true that refugees receive government support at first, once able to integrate and work they in fact outperform non-refugee migrants. Moreover, from 2009-2011, refugee men of working age were more likely to work than their US-born counterparts, and refugee women were just as likely to work as their US-born counterparts. Research from the Tent foundation shows that investing one euro in refugees up front can yield almost two in economic benefits within five years. Beyond the economic logic, imagine a world without Intel computer chips, Ghostbusters, or the general theory of relativity. All are the brainchildren of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States.
A separate EO that directs a 40 percent cut in funding to the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations would have serious implications for refugees around the world; our colleague Charles Kenny examines the broader implications of this policy proposal. Even if humanitarian funding is not targeted, an abdication of US leadership could produce spillover effects for the fledgling refugee and migration compact process initiated at the UN General Assembly this past September. Moreover, large budget cuts would negatively impact the UN’s overall capacity to provide life-saving assistance to tens of millions of people each year. In combination, the recent executive orders send a clear message that the United States is stepping back from addressing the refugee crisis—a recipe for greater instability and risk.
Refugee resettlement is a last ditch effort, meaning that these people cannot return home or remain in their current host country for the foreseeable future. The UN refugee agency estimates that 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement in a third country; already fewer than ten percent of these people successfully relocate. Historically, the United States has stepped up to welcome almost a full two thirds of this total. Abdicating this leadership will not only resign thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people to refugee camps and war zones; it sets an example for other countries to slash resettlement quotas. The draft EO suggests creating temporary refugee “safe zones” in the region in lieu of a resettlement program for Syrian refugees. Foreign policy and humanitarian experts are divided on the potential effectiveness of this policy, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to suggest a region already hosting millions of refugees take in even more, as we ourselves backslide on resettlement and broader support to refugees.
What Needs to Happen Next
It may take congressional action to prevent the United States from surrendering moral leadership on protecting the world’s most vulnerable. Just as bipartisan legislation has recently been introduced to protect undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children, we encourage Congress to act to protect our resettlement program and assistance to refugees. Building on the support of the private sector and citizen groups, Congress could also push for measures that increase the engagement of private and nongovernmental actors, including through private sponsorship for refugees similar to Canada’s model and enabling companies to admit more refugees through work channels. Historically, the United States has supported refugees at home and around the world to advance both its values and national security. These new policies betray America’s founding values and principles, and their overall impact—as part of a broader and profound withdrawal from global leadership—will not protect our country but only put us at greater risk.
The UN reckons that more than 11 million Syrians have fled their homes, nearly 5 million of whom are now in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. More broadly, UNHCR estimates that there are about 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world, including more than 21 million refugees. That’s about the same as the population of England and Wales, or the population of Italy.
We all want to fix this problem. Affected families endure a double burden of poverty and uncertainty. Displacement can threaten regional stability. And it fuels divisive politics in countries that perceive themselves to be at risk of large inflows of refugees. So why is displacement still a tough, unchecked challenge?
One major reason is that displacement isn’t—yet—a development problem.
That sounds odd. There are tens of millions of people on the ‘displacement caseload.’ Moving people off the caseload is incredibly slow. And people stay displaced for more than 10 years on average: we need sustainable solutions, not short-term fixes. So it feels like displacement—a big, slow-moving, large-scale, long-term problem—is clearly a development issue.
But displacement falls between the cracks of how we traditionally tackle these challenges. The usual toolkit of cheap financing (like World Bank IDA lending) and technical assistance focuses on lower-income countries. That’s a bad match for a caseload that is now mainly in middle-income states. As a result, we’ve relied on annual humanitarian appeals to tackle displacement instead of the long-term development finance that is a better match for these long-term problems.
Why do we need a toolkit of longer-term instruments and programmes to deal with displacement?
Reason #1: It’s big and slow
Sixty-five million is a big number.
It helps to frame the pieces of this challenge to say that the number of asylum seekers is a population roughly the size of Puerto Rico’s. The number of refugees is a population roughly the size of Sri Lanka’s. The largest share of displacement is actually families who cannot leave their countries—the number of IDPs is roughly the population of the Ukraine.
So available figures suggest roughly 1 in 300 displaced people had a durable solution. At that rate, it would take well over 200 years to move everyone off the caseload—and only if no new people were displaced.
Reason #2: It’s long-term
These figures help get a fix on the problem, but ‘headcount’ statistics alone aren’t very helpful. It’s total time displaced, not only the number of displaced, that matters. People have often claimed that the average duration of refugee displacement is about 17 years. That turns out to be a zombie statistic, accepted mainly by dint of repetition.
The truth is more complicated. Some top-shelf new analysis by Xavier Devictor and Quy-Toan Do, two World Bank economists, applies some minimal assumptions to UNHCR’s data to back out what durations look like.
Source: Devictor, Xavier, and Quy-Toan Do. "How many years have refugees been in exile?." World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 7810 (2016). CGD Analysis. Data requested from authors.
The results suggest that the average time (the yellow line) for refugee displacement peaked in 2005, and has declined since then to about a decade. But it also corroborates the intuition that displacement is driven by large ‘episodes,’ some of which create groups that remain displaced without an end in sight. The teal line is the average time of displacement among people who have been displaced for five years or longer.
The Syrian crisis helps illustrate both trends, and the fact that shorter average lengths of displacement don’t always reflect progress. The recent large outflow of Syrian refugees (now nearly a quarter of the world’s refugee population) has pulled down the median and mean length of displacement because they have not been displaced for very long. But even in optimistic scenarios, these families are likely join the ranks of those living in protracted displacement for many years to come.
Reason #3: It’s mismatched
Another misconception is that displacement is a ‘poor-country problem.’
This chart shows the different categories of displaced people based on the income category of the countries they’re living in, using 2016 World Bank income classifications. Most of the caseload is in the world’s middle-income countries. Lebanon, for example, is an upper middle-income country. But close to 20 percent of its population—every fifth person—is a Syrian refugee.
Notes: UNHCR Population Statistics. CGD analysis. Headcounts only include ‘Asylum-seekers’, ‘Internally displaced persons’ and ‘Refugees (incl. refugee-like situations).’
Generally, when problems are long-term and concentrated in countries with cash-strapped public services, we tackle them using longer-term, subsidized lending (and policy advice for reforms that are attached to the cheap loans). World Bank lending is a primary example of this.
Displacement falls between the cracks of that model. Even though a significant portion of the caseload is long-term and requires different solutions, we are still largely using the same short-term humanitarian fundsand approaches. The chart below shows the amount of funding donors have paid the humanitarian response plan process: the level of short-term humanitarian funding has grown in perfect lockstep with the number of displaced people.
Source: UNHCR Population Statistics and UNOCHA Financial Tracking System. CGD analysis. Headcounts only include ‘Asylum-seekers’, ‘Internally displaced persons’ and ‘Refugees (incl. refugee-like situations).’
That means we’re relying on the short-term financing of appeals, rather than the long-term development finance tools that might be a better match for protracted displacement. That’s a fundamental mismatch of financing tools and purpose—like trying to buy a house using a credit card instead of a mortgage.
Bridging the divide
Recent global summits have significantly increased awareness of the mismatch between the changed nature of displacement and legacy approaches. This includes innovations that bring together the expertise, resources and leverage of development and humanitarian actors.
For example, the World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility now offers loans at cheaper rates to middle-income countries to address the needs of refugees and host communities. The broader Global Response Crisis Platform addresses prevention, preparedness, and response. And the Grand Bargain launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May this year promises to increase humanitarian-development collaboration, in part through more joint analysis and planning.
There’s a lot of work left to do. We need to ensure that development solutions stay laser-focused on the well-being of both displaced people and the communities in which they live. And there are difficult questions about how to protect civilians while engaging governments. For example, IDPs are often beholden to the governments that displaced them.
Tackling these challenges means accepting that they’re tough, long-term, and mismatched to our legacy financing rules. Of course, getting the diagnosis right doesn't mean that the patient will get better. But it does mean that a combination of smart, brave political leadership and better-tailored financing can deliver the sustainable solutions that displaced people need—and deserve.
Thanks to Janeen Madan and Caitlin McKee at CGD and to Madeleine Gleave and Lauren Post at IRC for great comments and edits on an earlier draft. Naturally, all remaining errors are totally their fault.
CGD experts have penned memos on proposals to improve US development policy that we hope the next president will prioritize once in office. These are bipartisan ideas that could make a big difference for people in the developing world. The proposals come from our teams working on the US Development Policy Initiative, Global Health, and Gender.
The US has a unique opportunity to lead in improving economic opportunities for women and girls by establishing a global vision and a corresponding fund with significant financial resources to spur change. The next US administration should allocate at least $1 billion in additional resources—equal to a little over two percent of current US overseas assistance—exclusively dedicated to advancing gender equality in developing countries, with a specific focus on improving women’s and girls’ economic opportunities and outcomes.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.
The global community is facing extraordinary shifts in forced displacement. Today, more people than ever before—65 million, including 21 million refugees—are displaced by conflict. Host countries are taking on great responsibility for these displaced populations, but with insufficient support. New partners and new models are required to meet the displacement challenge. This brief outlines a compact model with critical components, including shared outcomes for refugees, host country ownership and focus on longer-term transition, best practices for program design and management, and commitment to policy reforms.
But translating these pledges into real change for the world’s 65 million displaced, including 21 million refugees, will require more comprehensive solutions. As part of a joint CGD-IRC study group, we have been developing concrete ideas on how to move the global community toward providing refugees and their host communities pathways to self-reliance that can benefit all. Greater attention to education and livelihoods opportunities for refugees is a welcome development, but it is critical to ensure that new financing commitments are not simply funding business-as-usual.
We propose a compact model that brings together host countries, donors, and development and humanitarian actors to pursue a long-term plan to respond to refugee crises. Host countries—a majority of which are developing countries—face resource constraints, as well as sensitive social and political dynamics in supporting refugees. And traditionally, host countries have not been the accountable entity for delivering social services and access to jobs for refugee populations. The operational principles we outline as part of a compact approach emphasize host countries’ financing needs and their disproportionate share of global responsibility-sharing, together with renewed leadership and accountability for achieving improved outcomes for refugees.
The international community can do and is doing more to support the financial costs of the refugee crisis. We must ensure that such financing does indeed deliver the outcomes intended, and in so doing reduce strains and vulnerabilities for host communities and refugees alike. By incorporating binding commitments among stakeholders for funding and policy changes, a compact creates incentives for host governments and donors to make the up-front investments and commitments that help ensure refugees contribute to national development in the longer-term.
In a new policy note, we outline four operational principles that form the foundation of a compact approach—shared outcomes for refugees, best practices for program design and management, host country ownership and complementary roles through all phases of the response, and commitment to policy reforms. Emerging financing platforms should incorporate and institutionalize these principles into their policy and operational frameworks, while tailoring specifics to each context. Here’s an overview:
Define shared and measureable outcomes for refugees. All actors should agree to a set of shared outcomes for improving refugees’ wellbeing. The compact’s success should be assessed against outcome indicators (e.g., number of refugees working in the formal sector or increases in refugees’ incomes), rather than only against inputs, processes, and activities (e.g., number of refugee work permits issued).
Employ best practices in the design and management of compact programs. It is critical that all actors prioritize evidence-based solutions and dedicate resources to generating new evidence in displacement contexts. Setting standards for cost analysis, including cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and requiring costing measures as part of proposals and evaluations are also critical considerations. Where evidence is lacking, compacts should invest in and test innovations that could unlock new solutions, including with private sector partners. And to promote transparency, compact partners should set standards for publishing implementation and financing plans, as well as open reporting on costing data and program evaluations.
Ensure host country ownership, complementary roles, and accountability throughout each phase of the refugee response. Promoting national accountability for refugee welfare is at the core of a sustainable response. Compact negotiations and structures should also recognize the voices and roles of development and humanitarian actors, as well as refugee beneficiaries. All stakeholders should engage in joint, multi-year planning and analysis to inform how actors can work based on comparative advantages. Moreover, linking financing to mutually-agreed benchmarks, including inputs, outputs, and outcomes, will create financial incentives to make progress towards results.
Prioritize commitment from host governments to undertake necessary policy reforms. Through a joint analysis process, partners should identify key policy and operational barriers to be addressed before (ex-ante) or after (ex-post) the compact is signed. For a compact that aims to improve livelihoods opportunities, for example, host governments should commit to addressing legal provisions on the right to work, as well as operational barriers that can make it difficult for refugees to find jobs.
This set of operational principles reflects a concrete way forward on how to achieve shared responsibility to support refugees. The compact approach provides flexible, multi-year funding that enables host governments, donors, and humanitarian and development actors to work through their comparative advantages. New platforms, such as the World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility and the Education Cannot Wait fund, are the most significant sources of new financing for refugees in decades. They seek to respond at greater scale to the global displacement crisis and expand the response to include critical support in education and livelihoods. We must ensure these new resources deliver transformative results for those uprooted by crisis and conflict, and the host communities providing refuge.
Since its establishment more than 54 years ago, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has expanded into an $18-billion-a-year agency, operating in over 145 countries and in nearly every development sector. But USAID is often constrained in its ability to adapt to emerging development challenges due to differing political priorities among key stakeholders and resource constraints. This memo is the result of a roundtable discussion in July 2016 on how the next US administration, in close concert with Congress, can build upon and maximize the development impact of USAID.
A consistent theme of President Trump’s campaign and White House tenure is the imperative of ending foreign aid to countries that fail to support America’s policies. These threats were made explicit in advance of the United Nations General Assembly vote on a nonbinding resolution that rebuked the recent US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In a cabinet meeting, President Trump said: “this isn’t like it used to be, where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.” Regardless of whether the administration makes good on this rhetoric, such posturing undermines US credibility and strains its partnerships with other countries.
Since the foreign aid budget and architecture was established to help stem the spread of communism during the Cold War, it has been an instrument of US foreign policy. Studies of US aid and UN voting have found significant connections between the two, although aid-based punishments or rewards are used sparingly and vary depending on regime type, level of development, and trade relationship between the US and recipient country.
Given that US foreign aid has always been linked to national security, how much of a departure is President Trump’s approach from that of previous administrations? And what should we expect to happen to the 128 countries that voted to express “deep regret” over recent decisions on the status of Jerusalem? (Nine countries voted against the resolution, 35 abstained, and 21 were not present for the vote.)
There are at least three ways in which President Trump’s threat is qualitatively different from previous approaches to tying US aid to the diplomatic actions of recipient countries:
The blunt and sweeping nature of the threat. The threat to cut aid to allies and partners was not tied to broader security and foreign policy objectives. While peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a critical US goal, the treatment of this single issue as a litmus test for apparently all forms of foreign assistance to all countries is uniquely broad. Previous aid negotiations have largely occurred around specific issues and targeted leverage; for example, a threat to withdraw aid in the event of a coup or other serious actions that undermine democracy. During the Cold War, the US sometimes traded one-off infrastructure projects for a UN vote or other policy decision (such as cutting ties with Cuba). And US aid to small countries (such as Nauru and Palau) does largely explain their consistent support in UN votes, including this one. Before the contentious vote to include Palestine as a member of UNESCO in 2011, the US exerted diplomatic energy and cut off contributions to UNESCO itself (as required by law), but there were no reports of threats to bilateral aid. The nature of President Trump’s threat also breaks with precedent in the framing of the vote as a personal sign of loyalty or disrespect: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley wrote in a letter to UN Member States “that the President and US take this vote personally.”
The public airing of the threat. The carrot-and-stick negotiations around aid generally take place in private to preserve the broader bilateral relationship. President Trump has embraced an unorthodox approach to foreign policy that combines bold and unpredictable rhetoric with a systematic undercutting of the State Department’s capacity and role. Many USAID posts also continue to go unfilled, weakening the overall US foreign policy toolbox. By making such broad threats publicly while undermining his capacity to act on them, President Trump raises the stakes for his own credibility in future aid and diplomatic negotiations—even if his primary audience was a domestic one. Ironically, the high-profile nature of the threat may have created pressure for countries to abstain or vote for the resolution to avoid the appearance of being too eager to toe the US line.
The lack of a realistic implementation plan. Much foreign aid is congressionally mandated—and it is difficult to imagine movement to end programs combating HIV/AIDS and promoting female empowerment because of this UN General Assembly vote. When President Trump’s FY2018 budget proposed to cut development and humanitarian aid by more than 30 percent, members of Congress expressed strong disapproval. But even if aid levels remain the same, the uncertainty itself hampers planning and frays partnerships. There is also the difficulty of developing and implementing a strategy for the many countries that receive foreign aid among the 128 yes votes, including key strategic allies. Egypt, for example, was a sponsor of the original United Nations Security Council resolution that the US vetoed earlier in the week, paving the way for the UN General Assembly vote Thursday. But as of FY2015, Egypt was one of the top five recipients of US foreign aid at nearly $1.5 billion (with a slight reduction to $1.4 billion in the FY2018 request). Even if it were possible, slashing the aid budgets of critical partners in the Middle East like Egypt and Jordan is counter to President Trump’s stated security, development, and humanitarian interests in the region. Not surprisingly, just after the vote, the State Department’s spokeswoman seemed to walk back the threat, saying that “the president has said yesterday that the UN vote is really not the only factor that the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations…”
If past experience is any guide, key security partners will continue to receive development and security aid, while poorer countries may be squeezed a little to show that there are consequences for siding against the United States in multilateral forums. More significantly, as other experts have noted, this rhetoric may be paving the way for major cuts to the US contribution to the UN. This risk is heightened by pressure to cut spending to make up for reduced government revenue as a result of the new tax bill. Whether or not there is follow through on President Trump’s threats to aid, the overall effect of this failed gambit is to erode US credibility and nudge countries to seek more reliable and productive partnerships elsewhere.
On a recent research trip to Jordan, I (Kate) met a young Syrian woman—we’ll call her Hala. Since fleeing the civil war, Hala has been living as a refugee in one of Jordan’s northern municipalities. With her university plans cut short, she opened a mobile beauty clinic traveling to customers—Syrians and Jordanians—around town for appointments. Jordan does not automatically give refugees the right to work. Under the Jordan Compact, launched at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London in February 2016, donors committed $1.8 billion in grants and concessional loans, including to support significant efforts to increase jobs and improve livelihoods for refugees and Jordanians. As one of several parts of the Compact agreement, the Jordanian government began distributing work permits to refugees working in certain sectors.
Hala is not one of the Syrians to have received a permit, and her beauty clinic did not fall into one of those sectors in which refugees are permitted to work.
Her business was cut short when she started receiving blackmail calls, threatening to turn her into Jordanian authorities for working without a permit if she didn’t agree to anonymous demands. Shuttering her first business, Hala next opened a dress shop in town with her brother—housed in what might compare to a one-room bodega on a New York City corner. On a busy street surrounded by other shops, with men working and resting along the sidewalks, Hala’s dress shop was bustling (our interview relocated a few times within the shop to avoid interrupting customers). Yet Hala no longer stays at her shop if her brother is not there. Men in the area have learned her brother’s schedule; once he leaves Hala to run the shop alone, patterns of intimidating harassment begin.
Being a young refugee woman in Jordan and opening her own business—twice—reflects clear resilience and entrepreneurship that belies the rhetoric of refugees as passive aid recipients. But the lack of personal security hinders Hala’s pursuit of a sustainable livelihood. Verbal harassment and intimidation itself is enough to dictate when and whether Hala, as a business owner, can keep her doors open and turn a profit.
Hala’s situation is not unusual—not for Syrian refugees nor their Jordanian hosts. The personal security challenges extend beyond street harassment. The rise in domestic violence among Syrian refugees is well-documented. There was a spike in early marriage among Syrian refugees in Jordan between 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 (when nearly 32 percent of registered marriages were considered early marriages), and the majority of early marriages as of 2014 involved Jordanian girls. Early marriage puts women and girls at greater risk for domestic abuse and undermines their education and earning potential.
Refugees are entering an economy already under pressure. Even before refugee populations are considered, Jordan’s job market faces serious challenges: a 34 percent youth unemployment rate, a total unemployment rate of 13.2 percent (and per Jordanian officials, reaching more than 18 percent in the first quarter of 2017), and a female labor force participation rate of just 14 percent.
The majority of Syrian refugees are unemployed in Jordan, and while many work informally, those who have received formal work permits since 2016 number less than 70,000 (against the 200,000 goal under the Jordan Compact). The barriers to secure, formal employment for refugees are significant. They face discrimination, harassment, and difficulty accessing safe, affordable transportation, among other challenges.
The other side is that many refugees may not want to formalize. The reasons vary depending on who you talk to. Perceptions that refugees refuse formalization out of fear of losing cash assistance or resettlement opportunities are common. Others (refugees and aid workers especially) indicate it may be the hesitancy of Jordanian employers to formalize. Business owners may be unwilling to register either their refugee employees or their business as a whole—which requires they meet the standards and employee care obligations set by the Ministry of Labor.
Jordan is taking steps in the right direction, but policies and programs remain insufficient given the scale of challenges
Creating sustainable livelihoods, providing the right to work and to own a business, and creatively bringing refugees and native businesses into the formal economy can be steps in the right direction.
Jordan hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees (and unofficial estimates are closer to 1-1.3 million). The number grows when considering the more than 64,000 Iraqi refugees, and nearly 15,000 refugees from Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and other countries. Jordan is also home to 2.1 million registered Palestinian refugees. Jordan has a per capita refugee population of 89 refugees to every 1,000 Jordanians, a rate second only to Lebanon.
Jordan has time and again adapted to absorb and integrate refugees into the country. But in the face of the ongoing Syria crisis, international support and domestic measures have fallen short of meeting needs. Refugees must be better included into the Jordanian economy, alongside development of the native labor force and greater economic inclusion of Jordanian citizens.
Helping refugees build skills, secure employment, and formalize their businesses can improve productivity and stability for refugees and their host countries
Ensuring refugees have access to livelihoods opportunities is one of the key factors to broader stability. Poverty can exacerbate personal and community-level security risks. When refugees are seen as aid-dependent, it can stoke host perceptions that refugees are stressing local infrastructure and taking jobs from often already impoverished host communities. But when refugees are allowed to contribute meaningfully to the economy, they gain self-reliance and economic security. This lessens the aid burden on the host country, and alleviates pressure on community-wide social tensions. However, this is no easy task in an environment where unemployment may be as high as 18 percent.
But research shows that refugees can provide complementary skills that increase productivity—one empirical research study shows no direct relationship between the arrival of Syrian refugees and the Jordanian labor market. While there may be potential displacement when adding new numbers to a workforce already facing high unemployment, good policies around right to work, including without sector-specific limitations, and right to own a business can mitigate adverse impact and even create new opportunities benefiting Jordanians and Syrians alike.
Beyond job creation, training, and matching initiatives, it is important to support the development of small Jordanian and Syrian owned businesses. In Jordan, micro and small enterprises (MSEs) supply about 40 percent of GDP, and in 2014 made up 98 percent of registered businesses. Policies and programs that help entrepreneurs create, formalize, and grow more of these businesses could be a prime opportunity to develop the local economy. For comparison, Syrian business owners in Turkey have invested almost $334 million into the Turkish economy, with more than 10,000 estimated Syrian-owned businesses in Turkey. This also benefits the host communities: Syrian businesses create jobs, with Syrian business owners employing 9.4 people on average.
CGD research on refugee compacts, conducted in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, shows how donors can play an important role by providing resources and support to both refugees and host communities, helping shift from a zero-sum mentality to one of mutual benefit. The Jordan Compact has been an important turning point in responding to the needs of Syrian refugees and their hosts. Critical avenues for dialogue around policy, programming, and investments have been unlocked.
But there are still areas that require substantial improvement, particularly around policy changes with respect to refugees’ right to work across sectors, right to own a business, and a better business environment to bring (and keep) greater investment to Jordan.
Getting this right will build social cohesion—ultimately critical to regional stability
The livelihoods element is just one of several pillars of the international and host government response. These solutions will require innovative approaches that not only address the livelihoods challenges of refugees, but that also tackle challenges endemic to the Jordanian economy and labor market. Building sustainable self-reliance and economic viability in and of itself can be a security guarantee.
There is much-needed attention on the significant security implications of the conflict. The international community should harness similarly robust focus and resources when looking several layers deeper, addressing other security challenges at the individual level. For the many cases like Hala’s, pursuing a small business is a step forward, but greater protection and sustainable livelihoods opportunities are necessary. Increased international support and partnership is critical to making this a reality.
More than 21 million people around the world are living as refugees. Three-quarters of those do not live in refugee camps, but in urban communities, profoundly altering the social fabric of cities in major host countries. Currently their survival depends on both regular outside assistance from humanitarian agencies and host country governments, and their own support structures such as social network ties. With the average duration of refugee status now more than ten years, this is often an unsustainable solution. Please join the Center for Global Development, in collaboration with the Urban Institute, as we explore how urban refugees can play a greater role in local economies, become more self-reliant and less dependent on outside assistance. What might help them integrate more with host communities? What is the role of social and economic networks?
Last week, a UN official said that the recent violence against Rohingya has “the hallmarks of a genocide,” underscoring why the plan to repatriate refugees to Myanmar is shockingly premature. While it is far too soon to discuss returns, it is the right time to plan for the longer-term wellbeing of refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar, a district of about 2.3 million people, is now hosting 900,000 Rohingya, more than 688,000 of whom have arrived since August 2017.
The refugee compacts model—deployed in Jordan and Lebanon now, and soon Ethiopia—offers a promising way forward. Compact agreements bring together the host government, donors, and the international community to develop multi-year commitments aimed at fostering inclusive growth and opportunity for refugees and host communities. As in the Jordan Compact, a key component should be policy reforms, such as the ability for refugees to work, own businesses, and attend school; in turn, these reforms enable refugees to become economic contributors to their host countries.
This CGD policy note argues that Bangladesh and its partners should explore the compact model and consider the inclusion of three ideas that would yield the level of ambition necessary to generate a sustainable response: European Union (EU) trade concessions, migrant worker opportunities, and partnership with China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
1. Expanding Bangladesh’s trade preferences with the European Union
Bangladesh is set to lose trade preferences with the EU and other countries when it graduates from least developed country (LDC) status. More than half of Bangladesh’s exports went to the EU in 2016, about 90 percent of which was textiles and clothing. Upon graduation from EU and other trade preferences, Bangladesh’s export revenue could decline by well over an estimated 5 percent. A compact could extend preferences, bringing significant benefits to Bangladesh without affecting the EU’s fiscal situation. Another potential opportunity that could have more immediate impact is further relaxing rules of origin in emerging sectors such as pharmaceuticals and agri-processing.
2. Increasing opportunities for Bangladeshi migrant workers
A compact could break new ground by including provisions for greater numbers of Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Gulf and Southeast Asia. Raising quotas could help meet labor demand and increase earning opportunities for Bangladeshis—and potentially for refugees as well. Labor migration is a fundamental component of Bangladesh’s economy: in 2015, remittances accounted for about 8 percent of GDP, the second-largest source of foreign income after garment exports. But given the exploitation and abuse that migrant workers experience, any compact should simultaneously seek to strengthen protections for workers. By participating in a compact, Gulf states could strengthen their nascent role in refugee response, building on their contributions to the Syrian crisis and initial support to Rohingya refugees, on mutually beneficial terms.
3. Partnering with China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
Bangladesh is an important strategic and economic partner for China. More than a third of Bangladesh’s imports come from China—and more importantly, Bangladesh is a critical link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). One of the six BRI economic corridors would connect Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, and China, including the construction of a new port in Bangladesh. The Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is playing an important complementary role, including financing energy projects. Given the reality of protracted displacement, China has an incentive to invest in a solution that promotes inclusive growth and stability in Bangladesh. China could enhance current trade preferences by granting zero tariffs to a greater proportion of Bangladeshi products. It could also accelerate or expand BRI and AIIB projects in Bangladesh and include provisions for Rohingya employment in their implementation.
Although refugees can become economic contributors with supportive policies and investments, the politics can be very difficult. A compact can offer a path forward by creating a package of new and substantial development opportunities for Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugees.
As more than 1,900 corporate leaders convene in Davos this week to “create a shared future in a fractured world,” they should prioritize the well-being of the 22.5 million refugees around the world. In a joint report with the Tent Foundation, I highlight how global businesses can move beyond corporate social responsibility to engage refugees in their core business, especially by including refugees in hiring and supply chains. As market leaders, policy influencers, and innovators, these businesses have assets that are not found in traditional humanitarian response and that can shape the broader environment for refugees’ access to labor markets.
The nature of forced displacement, and the political disruptions it has contributed to, has made the imperative to act more pressing than ever. Refugees have been displaced for an average of 10 years; for those displaced more than five years, the average jumps to over 21 years. There is a severe gap in funding for humanitarian response, and more than 84 percent of the world’s refugees live in developing regions, where governments are already struggling to meet the needs of their own citizens. Creating greater opportunities for the displaced to provide for themselves and their families is essential to any sustainable solution.
One of the most promising entry points for global businesses is including refugees in hiring and supply chains. As employers and buyers at the helm of extensive supply chains that reach deep into local markets, global businesses can play an important role in creating demand for refugee labor, products, and services. Commitments to support refugees should take place in the context of broader policy and investment initiatives that also benefit local communities, which are often experiencing high unemployment, flat or falling incomes, and other vulnerabilities. A notable example is IKEA’s partnership with the Jordan River Foundation, employing Syrian refugees and Jordanians to make hand-woven rugs, textiles, and other products which will eventually be sold in IKEA stores everywhere. Also in Jordan, Airbnb has launched a livelihoods initiative where refugees can advertise services like tours and other local experiences.
The potential for such efforts is largely dependent on conducive business environments and rights for refugees to work and own businesses. Host governments value their partnerships with global businesses—not only for the trade, investment, and services they offer, but also for their expertise and insight. As CEOs meet with government leaders at Davos, they should use the opportunity to forge collaboration across public and private sectors, including advancing policies that facilitate trade and investment and the economic inclusion of refugees. Donors, too, need to remain engaged, recognizing the public good provided by refugee-hosting countries and the support refugees often need to succeed, such as language classes and job matching services.
Global businesses can also lead the way on championing evidence on the economic benefits of refugee inclusion. Contrary to widespread misconceptions, refugees quickly become economic contributors to their host countries. Even in the short-term, refugee influxes typically have little to no effect on average wages or labor rates, and in some cases has caused wages for some native workers to rise by encouraging occupational upgrading.
Giving refugees the right to own a business can also bring substantial benefits to host communities. A recent study found more than 10,000 Syrian-owned businesses in Turkey, each employing 9.4 people on average. And what’s more, Syrians have invested more than $330 million in the Turkish economy since 2011.
There is no shortage of skepticism about whether global leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) are serious about addressing the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Visible progress through core business commitments would send an important signal that refugees are a crucial investment, not a cost—and that corporate leaders are committed to taking action towards, not just talking about, solutions that deliver social and economic impact.
The plight, peril, and potential of refugees and displaced people has been near the top of the political agenda around the world for many months, culminating in two large summits of world leaders during the UN General Assembly in New York. CGD experts Michael Clemens and Cindy Huang discuss what they hope comes out of the New York summits.