Monday

27th Feb 2017

Opinion

Opening trade will help create hope for refugees

  • The EU’s response appears to focus on what the EU and governments can do, but what about individuals and local communities? (Photo: Reuters)

With the Syrian war dragging on for over five years, a number of Syrians are starting to ask themselves what kind of future they and their children might have.

Given the bleakness of their answers, it is no surprise that a number have sought a new future in European Union countries.

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Yet for every person that has been prepared to make the risky trip to EU countries, many more - those without the means to pay a trafficker - continue to live day-by-day in the camps and communities elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

This week the European Commission has published a set of proposals on supporting governments as they try to give people some hope - both for the displaced people, and those who have seen large influxes into their towns.

This so-called Migration Compact must be about building capacity in these countries, not exchanging bargaining chips to allow some countries to blackmail the EU in exchange for outsourcing our migration challenges.

The Compact should be a genuine attempt to help those countries that are struggling - often quietly - to help refugees in their own communities so that they have a sense of optimism about their family’s future.

Take Jordan.

It is too often overlooked by the international community as a small country trying to cope with 1.3 million Syrians, 400,000 Iraqis, and 100,000 Yemenis and Libyans.

A large number of the refugees do not live in refugee camps, but in towns and villages amongst locals.

Jordan is asking for macro-financial assistance from the EU. The burden of large numbers of refugees is placing untold strains on water, health and education infrastructure.

If there are ways we can help to support investment in this infrastructure then it is worth looking into.

Open markets to fair trade

However, there is one thing that the EU can do to help create new jobs and economic opportunities for countries like Jordan: open our markets.

Jordan’s regional trading partners aren’t buying, either because of their own economic decline, or because of the stalled Chinese economy, or because their regional trading partners are involved in conflict and upheaval.

I believe that the single greatest opportunity we can give to Syrians, Jordanians and all of the other countries receiving refugees - to pass on economic opportunities - is to give them a fair chance to trade with us.

There has been some progress already between the EU and Jordan, with discussions taking place on relaxing Rules of Origin for development and industrial areas in Jordan that will help to create jobs for both local Jordanians and Syrian refugees.

Finding a swift agreement is critical and given the bigger picture it should not be so fraught with difficulties.

Such an agreement will grant much greater market access today, and could pave the way for an enlarged free trade area in the future, covering the movement of all goods and services as well as much needed investment.

Microfinance initiatives to grow business

The EU’s response appears to focus on what the EU and governments can do, but what about individuals and local communities?

For example, the microfinance platform Kiva allows you and I to lend money direct to entrepreneurs in poorer countries in the world.

For example, in Jordan we can loan our capital to people with shops looking to buy new stock or tools, or even people wanting to complete university degrees.

These are the people who will, in the long term, create economic opportunities, tax revenues and jobs for local people and hopefully refugees.

Over the coming months, I am planning to work with the Jordanian government to extend microfinance initiatives there, so that more people can grow their businesses with our capital.

There will doubtless be thorny issues surrounding the agreements that we reach with these countries.

For example, visa liberalisation must not be a bargaining chip that is dangled to countries with little prospect of meeting the requisite criteria.

And carrots must also be accompanied by sticks, so that if a country is completely abrogating its responsibilities - for example by refusing to take returning citizens - then we do not hesitate to respond by cutting off support.

Some countries will use our support for building infrastructure. Others may see it as an opportunity to bargain with us for investment in their economies.

Financial assistance may be prudent in some countries, but the single most important action I believe we can take is to facilitate an opening of trade with all of these countries.

By doing so, we can avoid directly propping up distasteful regimes with taxpayers’ cash; we are enabling the people, the businesses and the entrepreneurs to trade their way to a better future, and to create some hope for the refugees too.

Syed Kamall is an MEP for London and Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

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