Published On: Thu, Jan 21st, 2016

Countries at forefront of refugee crisis call for economic zones, paradigm shift

Impression of the making of the Annual Meeting 2011 of the World Economic Forum in DavosThe traditional ways of helping refugees no longer work on their own as the world faces the worst crisis of displaced persons since World War II. Panellists at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos called for a paradigm shift to help the world’s 60 million refugees.

“We are willing to create economic zones where refugees can find employment,” said H.M. Queen Rania Al Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, whose country hosts 1.3 million refugees. Foreign and domestic investors can relocate supply chains there and equip refugees with skills that they can later bring back to their homelands once peace returns. As further incentive, refugee-made products can be granted preferential access by other countries.

Refugees need to have independence and economic self-sufficiency, Queen Rania added, or else they lose hope and could become vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. She noted that the average time spent as a refugee is now 17 years. Jordan alone cannot deal with the problem. International aid pays for only 36% of refugee upkeep, with the government relying on borrowing to finance the rest.

Donor countries are beginning to recognize the need to change their approach. “We need to tackle the problem in a different way,” said Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation, the Digital Agenda, Telecommunications and Postal Services of Belgium. He called for tearing down the wall between short-term humanitarian action and long-term development, so refugees can gain access to education, labour markets and other benefits.

Aid organizations are also beginning to develop new tools and approaches, said Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva. He said humanitarian impact bonds will be launched as an innovative way to finance development projects for refugees.

The private sector has a key role to play, said Hamdi Ulukaya, Chief Executive Officer of Chobani, USA. His company, which makes Greek-style yoghurt in the United States, started hiring refugees five years ago. Businesses in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are stepping up, but companies and governments in the Gulf states can do more. “We will not remember who built the world’s highest buildings,” said Ulukaya, “but we will remember who has the biggest heart.”

“What we face is really a global issue,” said Mehmet Simsek, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey. “It’s a global problem that requires a global solution.” Turkey is doing its part by granting work permits to the 2.5 million Syrian refugees on its soil and providing education to 700,000 children of school age, healthcare and other services.

The bombing of urban areas must also be stopped, said Simsek, because this creates new waves of refugees and internally displaced persons. “We need to deal with the root cause,” he added, referring particularly to the Syrian crisis. Simsek reaffirmed Turkey’s open-door policy and provision of safe haven to displaced persons of all ethnicities and religions.

Over 2,500 leaders from business, government, international organizations, civil society, academia, media and the arts are participating in the 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on 20-23 January.

Taking a formative role in shaping the discussion at the Annual Meeting 2016 as the Co-Chairs are: Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Motors, USA; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels; Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft Corporation, USA; Hiroaki Nakanishi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Hitachi, Japan; Tidjane Thiam, Chief Executive Officer, Credit Suisse, Switzerland; and Amira Yahyaoui, Founder and Chair, Al Bawsala, Tunisia.

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