14 January 2016

UNHCR and the World Bank have partnered to publish a detailed collaborative report into the welfare, poverty and vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The report notes that as of December 2015, almost 4.4 million Syrians had registered as refugees, making it the largest refugee crisis of our time. Around 1.7 million are registered in Jordan and Lebanon.

The report which draws on a wealth of data collected by the two institutions shows that nine in ten refugees in these countries are living in poverty. Most are destitute and live on the margins in informal settlements, with only a minority living in refugee camps. Registration with UNHCR and the authorities does not automatically confer them with legal rights or entitlements to assistance making their circumstances precarious. Although they have access to government services, this is limited in practice due to high demand.

While current strategies have been very effective in reducing poverty, such as the provision of cash assistance by UNHCR and the food voucher programme by the World Food Programme, these are not sustainable in the medium to long-term. Instead, this leads to refugees remaining dependent and being kept in a ‘poverty trap’ where they spend a large amount of time trying to meet their essential basic needs of food, clothes and medicine.

The report recommends a more comprehensive strategy aimed at fostering the economic inclusion of refugees, allowing them to become self-reliant.  There should be a shift in policy from humanitarian assistance towards economic growth measures that will benefit both the refugee population and local host communities. This recognises that the crisis can be transformed into a development opportunity, to ensure a more stable and prosperous future for all.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.