The hopes of Kelly Clements to see more and bigger pledges for the millions of Syrians hit by their country’s civil war may come true.
“Even though the world is in chaos, this could be a year of progress because governments are taking the refugee issue so seriously,” the U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees told Handelsblatt ahead of today’s donor conference in London. “We see a readiness among countries to increase support,” she added, after the United Nations last year had to cut its aid in refugee camps drastically because of a shortage of funds.
The lack of funds contributed to an outflow of refugees from the region, especially to Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy helped fuel more than than 1.1 million asylum seekers in the country in 2015, with nearly 1 million expected again this year without a change of policy. She has come under tremendous pressure to react to the huge refugee flows, facing growing criticism of her liberal stance on asylum.
In a move aimed at curbing the flow of refugees to Europe by providing greater local support, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged €2.3 billion, or $3 billion, in aid for worn-torn Syria and its neighbors through 2018. Nearl €1.1 billion is earmarked for this year alone.
Ahead of the conference on Thursday morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the United Kingdom would double its earlier pledge of 1.2 billion pounds, or €1.6 billion, in aid through 2020.
“More money is needed to tackle this crisis and it is needed now,” David Cameron said in a statement.
“If we don’t solve the problems locally, even more refugees will come to Europe.”
The European Union is considering a substantial increase in the €1.1 billion it has already promised for Syria and may even double that sum.
“If we don’t solve the problems locally, even more refugees will come to Europe,” German Development Minister Gerd Müller told Handelsblatt.
Last week, Mr. Müller visited Jordan, Iraq and Turkey to urge the countries to provide more job opportunities for refugees.
The aid is also based on economic considerations. The Cologne Institute for Economic Research has calculated that it costs the German government €1,000 per month to provide food and housing for a refugee in Germany. Supporting a refugee in the Middle East costs just $500 — per year.
“More budget resources for projects in Syria’s neighboring countries are a sensible lever in refugee aid,” Werner Hoyer, the head of the European Investment Bank, told Handelsblatt.
The focus must not just be on emergency aid but on promoting economic development in the region, officials close to the talks told Handelsblatt. Ensuring that refugees can get jobs, the said, is the key to making sure they stay there.
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond tried this week to convince the Jordanian government to issue Syrian refugees with work permits. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour raised the prospect of issuing 150,000 work permits over several years if his country received $1.6 billion to invest in schools and the health system.
“It’s huge progress if the refugees have the right to work in the respective countries so that they can help the economy there instead of being a burden,” Ms. Clements said.
The German Development Ministry wants to help local businesses with a program called “Cash for Work” in which apprentices, both Syrian refugees and local people, will be offered training in the workplace. Firms in turn will receive easier access to credit. In addition, refugees are to be recruited alongside local people to build schools and to help restore the water supply.
The aim is to create 500,000 jobs from June through a program funded by a “Partnership Fund“ from German state development bank KfW. The program is intended to run between four and five years, with the German Development Ministry providing €200 million for it this year in a first installment.
Businesses will be also encouraged to join the project. “We need more involvement from the private sector to improve economic conditions in the crisis regions,” Mr. Müller said.
It’s not just governments that have so far been slow to provide financial assistance; German private donations for the victims of conflict in the Middle East have also been sluggish.
A list of donations to the German Relief Coalition, a group of relief organisations, shows that Germans have so far donated €8.9 million since the first call for aid to Syria was launched on Aug. 1, 2012. That’s not much compared with the amounts given to other causes.
Germans donated more than €23 million within months for the victims of the Nepal earthquake last April. By the end of 2015, they had given more than €26 million for Nepal, almost three times more than for Syria in two-and-a-half years.
“As long as the war and the expulsion aren’t over, the number of refugees in Syria and the neighboring countries will continue to rise along with the need for our help,” Manuela Rossbach, the director of the German Relief Coalition, told Handelsblatt. “The people affected need food, medical supplies and protection among other things.”
The United Nations, according to Ms. Rossbach, estimates that 13.5 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid and that the costs of this aid amount to some $13.8 billion.
She said she wasn’t surprised at the comparatively small donations to Syria. People, she noted, tend to donate less for humanitarian crises resulting from war and conflict than they do for the victims of natural disasters. Complex, drawn-out crises like the one in Syria tend to trigger a sense of powerlessness and helplessness that deters people from giving money, she said.
However, U.N. Refugee Aid, the German charity affiliated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, registered €5.8 million in private donations for Syria in 2015, more than any previous year.
“As long as the war and the expulsion aren’t over, the number of refugees in Syria and the neighboring countries will continue to rise along with the need for our help.”
As German elections in three states loom and the Europen Union shows little willingness to agree to a European-wide solution to the refugee crisis, Ms. Merkel appears to be adopting a tougher tone on her open-door refugee policy.
On Wednesday, her cabinet approved a legislative package aimed at restricting the flow of migrants. The measures would make it easier for Germany to reject claims for asylum and designate Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as “safe” countries, to which refugees can return.
The inflow of migrants from North Africa has increased sharply in recent weeks. According to initial government figures, 2,300 Algerians arrived in Germany in December, up from 850 in June. The number of Moroccans soared to 2,900 from 370 during the same period.
Under the draft, which will go to parliament for a vote, refugees are denied full asylum status but are permitted to stay under secondary protection and would be barred from bringing in family members for two years.
Nicole Bastian is currently the coordinating editor of foreign affairs in Düsseldorf. Dana Heide is a correspondent for Handelsblatt in Berlin, focusing on energy policies, small and medium-sized companies and innovation. Thomas Ludwig is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels. Katharina Slodczyk is Handelsblatt’s London correspondent. John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com