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Snowstorm Huda reminds the region of its refugees

Refugee integration is key to human development

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

It was Christmas Eve when I was in my car in Amman, Jordan as a young lady in a black Jelbab (Islamic long dress) came and asked me to roll down my windows. With a heavy south-Syrian accent, she told me her story; her husband had died and she’d been left with four kids. She had somehow made it out of the refugee camp and was being sheltered with a few other Syrian families. She needed money, but was too proud to beg. Instead, she was selling used kids toys. She told why she had to go out in the freezing cold streets at 11 p.m. to avoid police.

This week, two Syrians, including a six-year old boy, lost their lives to Hurricane Huda in a mountainous area of southern Lebanon. Palestine has declared a state of emergency as a result of the hurricane. The UNHCR prepared by distributing cash and fuel coupons to refugees, but admitted there are gaps in supplies.

Fuel coupons can only stretch so far when the refugee count tops 400,000, as it does in the Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where the deaths occurred. This is a testament that refugees must be integrated into communities, rather than given hand-outs, which act as temporary fixes to permanent problems.

Inadequate infrastructure

Refugees barely have infrastructure, and it is difficult to blame the UNHCR for that. It is difficult to build a refugee camp to accommodate hundreds of thousands of displaced men, women and children, that is stable in all seasons, especially considering that temperatures in the summer reach a scorching 40 degrees, and the winters include hurricanes.

Refugee integration is key to human development

Yara al-Wazir

When it comes to a country like Palestine, more specifically the Gaza Strip, it is difficult to sustain. This is primarily due to restrictions on building capacities and aid entering Palestine. This is a clear testament that the refugees cannot rely on the UNHCR in the long-term to shelter them from the storms. Refugee integration is key to human development.

The future is imminent and dark

It’s about time that we realize and respect that when refugees come out of a war as bloody and as complicated as the war in Syria, their status is not temporary, and no quick fix will solve it. It has gone on for four years already, and no quick fix seems to be close. Instead, the accommodation of refugees is on brink of collapse. With Lebanon imposing visa restrictions on Syrians, drastically limiting the amount of time that they can spend in the country, the refugees need somewhere to go other than refugee camps.

Refugees play a key part in growing the economy of a given country. When there was an influx of Palestinians coming out of the Gaza Strip in the 1960s, they went to Kuwait and shortly thereafter, the country boomed. Stories of the boom are still recited. The same rings true for the Palestinian community in Abu Dhabi. The difference is that these refugees were not left in refugee camps when Kuwait and Abu Dhabi suffered sand storms, at the mercy of U.N. tents. Instead, Palestinian refugees, once upon a time, were integrated into communities and allowed to apply for jobs and lead a normal life.

It’s only fair to think about the long term. Countries and cities that are already overpopulated and already suffering from high unemployment rates, such as Lebanon and Jordan, are right to think about the length of stay of these refugees.
However, rather than having a pessimistic view about refugees not leaving in the future, one must think about the cost vs. benefit of allowing these refugees to integrate in the long-term.

What are Palestinian refugees that moved to the Gulf now doing? Buying property and investing their money back into the Gulf. If Syria’s neighbouring countries want to grow, that’s exactly what they must do: integrate refugees into communities, allow them to obtain working visas and permits, purchase property, and live their lives free – as they once dreamt of doing.


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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.