Coping with the regional effects of the Syrian refugee crisis
Dealing with the tremendous challenges posed by the Syrian refugee crisis means addressing the current situation and the future expectations of both the refugee population and the hosting communities. Regionally, most of the Syrian refugees are concentrated in local regions neighboring areas that have historical and social ties with Syria, as well as economic relations, often informal, with the country in the past.
Considering the number of Syrian refugees that are found today in local hosting communities, a medium and long-term approach to the crisis would necessarily entail efforts for the recovery and reconstruction of Syria, as well as a shared vision at local level for the future cross-border cooperation/partnerships.
In light of the scale of destruction caused by the Syrian war and the fact that the mechanisms of the Syrian economy have been largely dismantled, it is reasonable to expect that the return of refugees would be gradual following a peace settlement. Priority actions should be geared towards coping with the regional developmental challenges at the local level in Syria’s neighboring countries, in order to reduce developmental gaps with other local areas, and addressing the needs of both refugee and hosting communities, notably in infrastructures and public services.
Preeminence should also be attached to creating opportunities for skilled Syrian refugees who had fled to neighboring countries, so as to present alternative options to emigrating to Europe and elsewhere. In order to contrast the ongoing “brain-drain”, employment opportunities should be made available to Syrian doctors and teachers to assist the refugees locally, and to engineers and small business owners to start developing SMEs which can contribute to the country’s economic recovery.
Major changes in current policies are also needed, including decent working and business conditions for refugees and hosts alike, massive schooling and health services provisions, lifting financial sanctions punishing ordinary Syrians, empowering civil society organizations amongst the refugees, etc. Also, positive expectations should be created for the future, specifically through commitments to finance recovery and reconstruction efforts, as well as incentives for the return of refugees. In short, the best approach lies in thinking locally about the future, while acting at a global level.