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Forced displacement is at historic levels as a result of global conflict and crises. Meanwhile economic migration—a known driver of development—has been demonized as part of the backlash against globalization. As nations work toward the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees, governments and international agencies are struggling to respond to the scale of need and the polarization of attitudes.
First and foremost, the impact of migration is a policy choice: With the right policies, migrants and refugees can fuel economic growth in both the countries they live in and leave behind. CGD brings rigorous research and evidence to these contentious political issues and designs policy approaches that enable migrants, refugees, and their hosts to prosper.
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.
This post is a recap of Michael Clemens’ remarks at the sixth consultations on the Global Compact on Migration delivered in Geneva this month. You can watch his full remarks below.
The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) is an opportunity for all of us to make history. I join as an economist with the many other government, humanitarian, development, and international actors mobilized behind the GCM because I wish for the Compact to rise to that occasion. To do that, it must propose new mechanisms for substantial, additional, lawful, economic labor mobility.
I don’t think anyone who has seriously looked at the demographic projections can avoid that conclusion. Sub-Saharan Africa will see 800 million new labor force participants within 30 years. Which means 800 million young, energetic job seekers in sub-Saharan Africa—that’s wonderful news. It’s some of the best news of our time, and it’s because child mortality rates have been plummeting across sub-Saharan Africa for the last 30 years.
But that means 800 million new, energetic youth looking for jobs. Common sense and the historical data suggest that many of them are going to move. Migration will not be a question of “if” but of “how.” Are the conditions under which they move going to be conditions that unleash their vast potential, including economic potential, or conditions that waste it?
We need new mechanisms to be specifically included in the GCM. There is a crack at the heart of international discussions for new legal channels of economic labor mobility. Many in migrant destination countries perceive their self-interests to be best served by higher-skilled migration. And many countries of migrant origin are highly suspicious of higher-skilled migration, and see their self-interests as best served by relatively lower-skilled migration, if any at all.
I have proposed one way to patch this crack. It’s a small part of the solution, but it needs to be included in the Compact and tested and explored and adapted to different situations.
A Global Skill Partnership is a bilateral agreement in which a migrant destination country joins with a migrant origin country to sensibly share the costs and benefits of skilled migration. Destination-country employers and governments provide technology and finance for vocational training of potential migrants before they depart, in exchange for access and placement at the destination, and paired with the training of other workers for the origin-country market. (There are context-specific examples for both migration and forced displacement pilots.)
There are huge potential benefits for everyone involved. Agreements of this kind ensure that destination countries receive migrants with the skills to integrate quickly and contribute maximally. They ensure that origin countries receive a stronger human capital base without a net drain of fiscal or human resources. And they ensure that migrants get lawful, regular opportunities to change their lives and the lives of their children.
The Global Skill Partnership framework is highly flexible. It can and must be adapted to the highly specific settings of destination and origin countries—which is why it cannot be done unilaterally. It also cannot and should not be done multilaterally, as the needs of migrants and the needs of different origins and destinations are so different and highly specific.
Some features of this approach have been tested in numerous settings, but new pilot programs are needed to test and adapt the model for broader use. We need mention of the Global Skill Partnership included in the Compact if we want to have a pragmatic, effective, and forward-thinking agreement on migration reached in New York City next September.
The following blog post is excerpted from an op-ed by Cindy Huang originally published in Devex.
This week, at the World Bank Annual Meetings and G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors, global leaders must address the Rohingya refugee crisis head on by condemning Myanmar—whose regime has burned villages to the ground and brutally murdered children in what a UN official called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”—and by committing substantial aid to Bangladesh, one of the poorest 50 countries in the world that now hosts more than 819,000 Rohingya refugees.
On September 28, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that this horrific campaign of violence has "spiraled into the world's fastest-developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare." Two weeks later, the nightmare continues. The international community must put intensified pressure on Myanmar to halt these atrocities, which should include a sobering reevaluation of lending by the World Bank to Myanmar’s government.
Given the rate and scale of the unfolding crisis, which is the swiftest outflow of refugees since the Rwandan genocide, the international community is rightly focused on emergency humanitarian measures. But it is also imperative for international actors to move quickly to develop complementary solutions that can improve the situation both now and in the longer-term. Here are three key elements of such a package for Bangladesh:
1. We need to offer immediate aid and assistance.
The international community should immediately offer a bold package of assistance to meet the needs of both refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. The UN estimates that the crisis requires $434 million over the next six months. Even if the international community commits this amount, it still won’t be enough to fully meet the challenge. The government of Bangladesh is already struggling to provide basic necessities such as food and clean water to communities where refugees are now settling. Even before the recent influx, tensions were rising between locals and Rohingya refugees over scarce resources and job opportunities. International support can’t just focus on refugees, it must also help materially improve the standard of living for host communities.
In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, donors including the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development offered Jordan and Lebanon, which host more than 1.6 million registered refugees, significant resources to meet the needs of both refugees and citizens. This has created the possibility of a win-win solution for both groups and has been good politics for the host countries’ governments. This type of compact—an agreement that includes policy changes to expand refugee rights and programs to improve the well-being of refugees and hosts—offers benefits for everyone. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must respond to demands to deliver for her constituents first and foremost, and a compact of this kind can generate domestic support for recognizing, hosting, and supporting refugees now and in the longer term.
2. We need to offer more than aid as part of refugee compacts.
The international community should consider new policies and programs that will help the people of Bangladesh and Rohingya succeed, including reducing trade barriers and opening new markets for Bangladeshi companies, providing technical assistance to help the government tackle difficult economic issues, and facilitating private sector investment that will help Bangladesh make critical economic reforms that pay dividends in the long term. One of the breakthrough elements of the Jordan compact was the offer of European Union trade concessions for companies employing Syrian refugees. The details aren’t easy to get right, but if the international community wants to make a real difference in the future of Bangladesh, it needs to look at policies that enable sustainable gains.
3. We need to plan for this crisis to endure.
The reality is that there is little prospect that the Rohingya refugees will be able to return home any time soon. The world’s refugees have been displaced for an average of 10 years, and for those displaced more than five years, that average climbs to over 21 years. While the international community presses for an end to the terrible violence in Myanmar, they must also work with the government of Bangladesh on solutions that will address needs now and in the long haul. The international community has an opportunity to improve the situation in Bangladesh—not just for the Rohingya refugees, but for Bangladeshis as well.
And even though this crisis may seem like it’s thousands of miles away from capitals in Europe and North America, the situation hits close to home for leaders who are facing pressure to reduce refugee resettlement in their own countries. They can relate to the political challenges that Prime Minister Hasina is facing, and should appreciate that they don’t face the other economic and development challenges she is tackling at the same time.
At a recent CGD event, Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, recounted a question he posed to senior State Department officials:
Ten years from now, if your kids are studying about the elimination of a people from Western Burma and they ask what you did when you were in the government to prevent that disaster, what will you be prepared to say to them?
As the disaster unfolds, we must continue to ask: what will the international community do to respond to one of the great tragedies of our time? One critical component should be a bold package of support that meets the needs of Rohingya refugees and their Bangladeshi hosts.
The world urgently needs innovation to shape how international migration happens. Today people who are forcibly displaced are seen and treated largely as a burden, not as a resource that can bring shared benefits. A new type of private-public partnership can offer new opportunity for some of those who are forcibly displaced. It can be called a Global Skill Partnership, and this note illustrates how it might work for Syrians displaced into Turkey.
CGD's experts across a range of issues will also be paying close attention the Annual Meetings.
Here's what they'll be watching:
Will the World Bank’s capital increase campaign be a success? Scott Morris has been keeping an eye on the World Bank’s campaign for a capital increase, but the United States has policy concerns about increased lending at the Bank, with specific skepticism about the Bank’s continued lending to large emerging market countries, like China.
Will the world take action on Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis? Cindy Huang is calling for an international package for Bangladesh – similar to the Jordan Compact that is helping to address the Syrian refugee crisis. She says that for this package to succeed it must include assistance for the 800,000-plus Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh, as well as provide robust support to the communities hosting refugees. It also must go beyond aid, including components like reducing trade barriers and facilitating private investment in Bangladesh.
Scott Morris is also watching this issue closely. The Bank has provided $2 billion in assistance to the government of Myanmar since 2010, and now a top United Nations official has said the Myanmar regime is perpetrating a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Morris is raising important questions, including “how much certainty does the bank have that its projects are safeguarded against abuses in Myanmar today, that no projects are enabling discriminatory treatment toward the Rohingya population?” and "is the World Bank and major donors willing to use all the tools in their toolset to address the crisis, including sanctions?"
What will the World Bank’s new strong stance on the tobacco tax mean for developing nations? There are about 6 million premature deaths each year from the tobacco epidemic, and that number continues to rise. Two-thirds of those deaths are in developing countries. That's why Bill Savedoff has been working for many years to get the World Bank and the international community to support a tobacco tax. The World Bank is the only international organization of its scale that regularly works with Finance Ministries and has a mandate to improve health worldwide.
This week, the Bank published a new report that shows how tobacco taxes could have a major impact on global health (summary here). It states strongly: “There is a policy measure that can simultaneously save millions of lives, reduce poverty, and increase countries’ domestic resources for financing development. The policy measure consists of increasing excise tax rates on tobacco in order to reduce its affordability and, as evidence shows, lower its consumption... The report sets forth the public health, economic, and anti-poverty case for higher tobacco taxes; shows how some countries have already delivered ambitious reforms; and documents measurable results. It shows that, by implementing tobacco tax reforms now, policy makers can choose a fast road to healthier, more prosperous societies.”
At the Annual Meetings, Bill and I will be participating in discussions of this strategy to combat the tobacco epidemic and save lives with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and other high-level officials from across the globe.
Stay tuned to @CGDev on Twitter and sign up for our email updates to stay informed about what happens at the Annual Meetings.
Within a decade, Europe will require hundreds of thousands more nurses than it is likely to train. To meet the growing need, nurses will move in large numbers to Western Europe from other countries, including those in Eastern Europe. But Eastern Europe currently lacks nurses already relative to Western Europe, while Eastern European youths crave opportunities in skilled employment. How can nurses trained in Eastern Europe move to Western Europe in a way that benefits both regions?
Workers from poor countries can find enormous economic opportunity by working temporarily in a rich country. But agencies that fight global poverty do little to facilitate guest work. This may be because guest workers are perceived to typically suffer negative side effects that outweigh the benefits. This paper uses a natural experiment to test several perceptions of harmful side-effects on Indian guest workers in the Gulf. The research shows little evidence that the harmful side-effects often ascribed to guest work are typical and systematic, though this does not contradict the occurrence of many individual cases of harmful side-effects.
As half a million Rohingya refugees have been violently forced out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh in the past month, the top United Nations human rights official has called what’s happening “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The tactics of the Burmese Army, tacitly defended by Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, mirror crimes against humanity committed elsewhere. Like the Sudanese did in Darfur, the Burmese authorities are using concerted violence to clear territory of an undesired ethnic group. Like Slobodan Milosevic did in Kosovo, Burma is depriving its citizens of their national identity as it violently pushes them out of the country. But what makes the situation in Myanmar unique is the speed at which this refugee crisis has exploded. In Kosovo it took three months for 800,000 people to flee, while half a million Rohingya have fled in a matter of weeks—and it’s not over yet.
The immediate on-the-ground needs are clear: preventing disease, ensuring adequate food and clean water, setting up emergency shelter, and providing protection and psycho-social support to the most vulnerable. But these necessary elements are only a band-aid on a growing crisis.
When a new refugee flow emerges, there is a short window of a few months for stopping the violence and enabling people to return home. It that window is missed, a new refugee population will likely remain displaced for decades. My gut tells me that this is the second category—that Rohingya Muslims will be in exile for a long time, absent a large and coordinated push on the Burmese government to cease the violence, allow them back, and to recognize their rights.
That’s where the United States comes in.
This moment could define the Trump presidency’s foreign policy and change the course of history—but only if he speaks out. Early on in the George W. Bush administration, he was briefed on President Clinton’s handling of Rwanda in 1994 and said “not on my watch.” This is that same “not on my watch” moment for the Trump administration and everyone who works in it, and they should treat it accordingly.
It goes without saying that the United States must sustain robust and sufficient aid to stabilize the refugee population. But that needs to be paired with a strong diplomatic push, engaging China and other regional powers to pressure the Burmese regime to stop this concerted mass violence. It’s good to see that the United States is speaking up at the United Nations Security Council, but the question is if that will translate to diplomatic action. Unfortunately, with most senior positions at the State Department still vacant, it remains to be seen whether the Trump Administration has the bandwidth to take this on.
The United States should be working in the United Nations Security Council toward a strong resolution on the situation in Myanmar. Even if this doesn’t reach the finish line, the effort will put pressure on China and in turn, the Burmese. For this to work, President Trump, who has declined to speak out on this issue so far, needs to engage and put his weight behind the effort.
The United States should consider targeted sanctions against senior regime officials in Burma, signaling to the government that the United States will fundamentally reevaluate the constructive relationship we’ve built with them over the past few years. We need to make clear to the Burmese regime what they are putting at stake by doing this.