Over the five years of the Syrian conflict, municipalities of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey hosting 89% of Syrian refugees have developed extraordinary resources and solutions to this humanitarian and developmental crisis. Today, some of them have surpassed their response towards strategizing on how to turn the burden into opportunities for local shared growth. Host municipalities across the region learnt from this experience about “Improving local economic opportunities for host communities and refugees”.
During the 2nd Annual CMI Peer- to Peer learning workshop of Mediterranean Host municipalities network (Beirut, May 9 -12, 2017) representatives from more than 40 municipalities from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have gathered under the umbrella of the Center for Mediterranean Integrations’ Mediterranean Host Municipalities Learning Network, to discuss their best practices in hosting refugees. They emphasized on of their biggest challenges- creating economic opportunities for both communities.
One important solution lies in identifying opportunities to develop local growth and to attract investments from entrepreneurs and the private sector. Change is notable in the starting outreach and actions of host municipalities : Sarhan municipality in Jordan took an avant-gardist step by reaching out to closely 50 private companies, offering them incentives such as land facilitation and simplified procedures to attract the private sector. Central government also played a primordial role, particularly on the level of financial and administrative regulations.
Such policy and regulatory support has allowed three plants to get established in Sarhan, including Syrian-led businesses, and among which the pickle industry is generating 250 jobs for Jordanians and Syrians.
“There are 550 Syrian industrial facilities in Jordan employing 14,000 workers of which 4,000 are Syrians” tells us Mohammed Al-Shaer, a Syrian businessman managing Sigma Detergents in Amman. “Only through the easing of restrictions on industrial investment in general, and for Syrians in particular, can we leverage the labor markets, locally and nationally”.
When relocating their businesses to host countries, Syrians are not only transferring capital, but also knowledge and experience. Municipalities’ increased awareness of Syrian entrepreneurs’ role in strengthening local economic development, social cohesion and livelihoods for both Syrian and host communities is yet another reality changing the response of municipalities to the crisis.
In Turkey, the 51% of relocated businesses from Syria multiplied employment opportunities and widened market opportunities. The resources and know-how have even helped reviving dormant and forgotten industries, such as handmade shoe-making in the city of Gaziantep.
Senior advisor at the World Bank, John Speakman explains the importance of host countries seizing the abundance and closeness of Syrian human and financial capitals. “The closer your investors are, the better it is. Syrians live near you, and there lies infinite potential of investment”, he said.
Changing the vision and action of local authorities towards Syrians’ participation in the labor market, is therefore key. According to Rami Sharrack, deputy executive director of the Syrian Economic Forum in Gaziantep, Turkey, the first step is “establishing working groups in each municipality in charge of local economic development, involving the Syrian private sector as an active member”.
Moreover, gender is emerging more clearly as the new face of the municipal responses to the crisis as Syrian and local women are becoming the breadwinners. In fact, women’s access to the labor market continues being a chronic and common issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Several municipalities are becoming more aware of benefits female workers can bring to local economic development. They are building, through their networks of private and Non-Governmental Organizations, the skills and employability of both Syrian and local women, linking them to their labor market needs. Zarqa’s municipality in Jordan provided training to 60 women including Syrians in the production of pickled products, and followed up by providing them permit for home-based businesses.
While in Saida, Lebanon, a private restaurant chain, called Tawlet, defied an even more complex challenge, and is hiring today Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese women as cooks.
One major limitation to municipal action remains the limited financial resources, particularly in Lebanon where basic services and infrastructure have always been defaulting in rural areas. Haneen El Sayed, Program Leader tells us how the World Bank is starting a 200 million dollars’ project to rehabilitate roads in Lebanon: “This is one example of many on how the World Bank helps support countries affected by the crisis, and helps generate jobs and incomes to both Syrian and Lebanese workers”.
Following the European Union-Jordan compact, adopted in December 2016, it was also agreed to simplify rules of origin requirements to Jordan exports to the EU, provided job opportunities are offered to Syrian refugees, alongside Jordanians.
Jordan will also make it possible for over 165 000 Syrian children to access education and increase opportunities for Syrian youth to receive vocational training.
Learning from these examples highlighted the many ways for host municipalities to turn the presence of Syrian refugees into economic opportunities. The host municipalities network participating to the Beirut workshop want to learn more on how to better attract the private sector and leverage Syrian workforce and businesses.
A compendium capturing some of those good practices was also discussed and shared among them, as one of the many tools the municipalities wills use to exchange and learn through their Host Municipalities Network. Going forward the Network will continue to facilitate peer-learning within the community of practice on local economic development in the forced displacement context.