Refugee crisis calls for aid rethink, Al Arabiya WEF panel hears

Development corporations need to do more to help countries like Jordan and Lebanon, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says

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An urgent review is required on how developmental aid is distributed to countries like Jordan and Lebanon, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told an Al Arabiya News Channel panel on Saturday.

António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, said such countries are being overlooked by international development agencies because they are not considered as poverty stricken as others.

This “structural problem” needs to be fixed as refugees continue to flock to Jordan and Lebanon from war-torn Syria and Iraq, he said.

“The development corporation mechanisms in the world do not have these countries as a priority,” Guterres told the panel at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2015, held in Jordan.

“It is absolutely essential to review the strategies and priorities of the development systems in the world.”

Guterres said that humanitarian appeals last year were only 60 percent funded – meaning that the needs of many refugees are not being met.

“There is not enough humanitarian money to cope with such a challenge,” he said. “The international community is not coming together sufficiently to support the humanitarian needs of the Syrians and the Iraqis.”

“But worse than that, the countries that are paying the price, the countries that are extending their solidarity to the Syrians – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq – these countries have not received the solidarity of the international community that they deserve and they need,” he added.

Guterres – who was Prime Minister of Portugal between 1995 and 2002 – said the refugee crisis in the Middle East marks “the worst humanitarian drama we have faced since the Second World War”, given the influx from countries such as Syria and Iraq.

“This is one of the most dramatic situations that you can imagine,” he said.

The Al Arabiya News Channel’s Rima Maktabi moderated the debate about the regional refugee crisis, in a discussion at WEF in Jordan.

“Thousands of people are living in tents – they freeze in the snow, they drown by rain, and melt in the heated sun of the summer,” Maktabi said at the opening of the discussion.

Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, also took part in the Al Arabiya panel.

He noted the vulnerability of 2 million child refugees from Syria who lack shelter, healthcare, food and education.

“This problem is huge, it’s not temporary and will last for years,” he said, adding that the average period of a refugee out of one’s country is 10 years. “When children don’t get education and are stuck in a camp for years, we are building problems for the future.”

Former UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown at the Al Arabiya News Channel panel discussion. (Photo courtesy: WEF)
Former UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown at the Al Arabiya News Channel panel discussion. (Photo courtesy: WEF)

The other speakers were: Imad Najib Fakhoury, Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation; Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility for the Ericsson Group; and Ali Oman Sindi, Minister of Planning of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

Fakhoury said his country has opened its border to refugees but the burden has become too much for Jordan to handle on its own.

“We have over 1.4 million Syrians and this is creating challenges,” he said, noting that such an increase in the population is putting a huge strain on social services and resources in a country with limited resources to begin with.

“We need a Marshall Plan to provide support,” he added, referring to the U.S. initiative to rebuild European economies after the Second World War.

According to the UNHCR, there are close to 4 million registered Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and North Africa; Jordan alone has 1.4 million Syrian refugees, almost half of whom are not registered.

There are also hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Kurdistan, in addition to 1.2 million Iraqis who have fled their homes because of war.

“We have seen our population increase by 28%. This is an extra burden on a region that already has its own issues and instability,” said Sindi. “We are managing the emergency, but now we need to talk about resilience.”

Weidman-Grunewald said companies also have a role to play in humanitarian assistance. “The private sector is underutilized in humanitarian responses. We could bring solutions,” she said.

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