Funding to encourage Syrian refugees to stay put

Many Syrians in Jordan who fled their country’s civil war have been working illegally. Now under a shrewd, delicate experiment that grew out of Europe’s desire to contain the influx of foreigners to its shores, Jordan has been persuaded to let these Syrians make an honest living–in return for potentially big financial rewards.

Jordan has 650,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations inside its borders, along with high unemployment among its citizens. Under the new experiment, the government has given out 13,000 work permits to Syrians, and is promising to issue up to 50,000 by year’s end–and tens of thousands more in the future.

In exchange, the World Bank is giving Jordan a $300 million interest-free loan, the likes of which are traditionally reserved for extremely poor countries in Africa. Western nations, including the United States, have offered roughly $60 million to build schools to accommodate Syrian children. And Jordan is close to clinching what it wants most: tax-free exports to the European Union, especially garments stitched in its industrial export zones.

In short, Western leaders are using their financial and political leverage to convince Jordan that it is worthwhile to help refugees improve their lot in this country so they do not cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy rafts in search of a better life in Europe. It is a stark shift for both donor countries and Jordan, which, after absorbing generations of refugees from wars across the Middle East, had tried to keep Syrians from establishing a permanent foothold.

Jordan is not the only country trying to leverage Europe’s anxiety about refugees and migrants. Turkey has negotiated a deal that involves taking back most of those who traveled across the Aegean Sea into Greece in exchange for $6.6 billion in European aid and a proposed waiver of visas for Turks entering Europe.

Libya is getting assistance from Europe to keep migrant boats from crossing the Mediterranean, an approach that Human Rights Watch describes as outsourcing “the dirty work to Libyan forces.”

[New York Times]

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