The conflict in Syria is far from over, with violence erupting in Idlib and more recently in Eastern Ghouta. Two major conferences were held in Europe to address the crisis caused by the conflict in Syria, “Supporting Syria and the Region” in London in 2016, and in Brussels in 2017. During these conferences, world leaders were brought together to discuss how they can meet the needs of the populations inside Syria and in neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Financial pledges were made by participating countries to aid those affected, and an impressive $6 billion was agreed upon for 2017.
The pledged $6 billion would contribute to various initiatives, such as aiming to create 1.1 million jobs in the region and ensuring all refugee children are attending schools. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are the main targets within the region as they host the majority of refugees. All participants of the conferences committed to make appropriate policy changes so that refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey receive access to protection, education, health services as well as employment. Additionally, the conferences also called on participants to reaffirm their commitment to the principle of non-refoulement.
However, as often the case with the international community, big talks do not always translate into real action. A recent report published by a joint initiative of a number of civil society organisations highlighted that actual funding provided fell short of the initial $6 billion pledged (see Figure 1 below). Even though the deadline is set for 2020 for further grants and loans, it is predicted that the amount given in years to come will also fall short of the target.
Additionally, Jordan and Lebanon who initially made goals and promises have so far failed to fulfil expectations. ‘The Jordan Compact’ was a mutual cooperation between Jordan and the EU signed in 2016, aimed to pump significant investment into Jordan to improve access to education and legal employment for its Syrian refugees. Whilst work permits restrictions for refugees have been relaxed and the application fee has been lifted, many refugees still face difficulties in finding and maintaining employment. Refugees in Jordan are still excluded from high-skilled and semi-skilled jobs, and the majority of sectors still require refugees to have a sponsor. In terms of education, poverty and costs of transportation prevent refugee parents from sending their children to school. Instead, the children are sent to work to make ends meet.
In Lebanon, a great deal of focus was put on job creation for the most deprived communities which include refugees. The Lebanese Crisis Response Programme established in 2015 provided the much needed funding for Lebanon to not only generate jobs, but also improve the access to and quality of its public services, as well as ensuring the protection of displaced Syrians. Unfortunately, the jobs generated are still not enough – only 2,000 jobs were generated in 2017. Moreover, Syrians in Lebanon are only allowed to work in three sectors: agriculture, construction, and ‘environment’, which include cleaning jobs. Families’ lack of documentation and parents’ struggle to find employment act as barriers to refugee children attending education.
It seems that the pledged $6 billion, even if it was met, would still not be enough for host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to successfully accommodate the large influx of refugees. Jordan’s unemployment rate was at 18.5 percent in 2017 – its record highest. In Lebanon, 1.5 million Lebanese live below the poverty line. An influx of refugees has caused serious strain on already depleting resources for both Jordan and Lebanon. This contributes to the rising anti-refugee sentiment and has even led to the deportation of Syrian refugees from certain neighboring countries.
Evidently, the international community is not providing enough support. It is important that financial pledges are met, but it is also imperative that the international community goes beyond providing financial aid. As the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, the burden of the Syrian crisis is unevenly shared among all parties involved. It is time for the international community to finally turn words into action.
Author: Hanis Shamsul-Béné. Hanis is a recent graduate from University of Birmingham where she studied MSc Conflict, Security & Development. She is currently a Research Intern for Trust working on Refugee Integration and Higher Education in Turkey.