Investing in Hope

Op-Ed by His Majesty King Abdullah II
The Independent
03 February 2016

The Syrian conflict is about to enter a sixth brutal year, with more than 250,000 Syrians dead and more than half the population displaced. By far the majority have clung to safety in neighbouring countries, especially Jordan, but increasing numbers are turning to Europe. This desperate situation has put enormous pressure on our global system. Community fears have collided with core social values, putting new strains on the principle of “united in diversity” – which is, after all, not just the EU motto but a basis for co-existence worldwide.

It is apparent from the shattered lives of children washed up on Europe’s shores that our current approach to handling refugee crises is not working. It is time for a new response that takes better account of the realities we face.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Tomorrow, the nations of the world will gather in London to address the Syrian refugee crisis. This conference comes at a critical juncture, when we have an opportunity not only to ease the heart-rending suffering, but to safeguard the future for my region and Europe as well.

This is a conference in which we all must step up for the stability of the region and for the opportunity to bring peace to Syria. It will test our will and ability to act as one – to save human lives, to protect human dignity, and in doing so, to save the future we share.

This requires from us a new paradigm for action. Recognising that the crisis is complex and protracted, our strategy can no longer be focused on emergency and humanitarian relief alone. It should be based on sustainable development-based goals.

Three requirements must shape our approach. First, the international response must be sustainable over the longer term: this crisis is too large and too widespread to end soon, even if the political process for a settlement in Syria makes progress. Second, our response must recognise Jordan among key regional host countries as the lynchpin of global action: to invest in our refugee response is to support an ally that can lift a burden that would otherwise fall elsewhere. Third, our initiatives must be comprehensive, to meet the complex crisis of refugee displacement and lay the groundwork for it to end with a positive future ahead.

Even if the Geneva peace conference moves forward, even when Daesh and its cohorts are defeated, it will likely be years more before the refugee situation resolves. This means years-more pressure on displaced people, communities and countries hosting them. The needs of both must be addressed on a stable, viable basis.

Refugee-related costs now consume 25 per cent of Jordan’s national budget. The economies of the US and EU combined are more than $35 trillion and they are grappling with the influx of slightly over one million refugees. By comparison, Jordan’s economy is less than 0.001 per cent of the US and EU economies and has been coping with an even greater challenge of hosting nearly 1.3 million Syrian refugees. This is not to mention the refugees Jordan received during previous and ongoing conflicts. The amount of external shocks − the countless disasters and wars that we had no role in, but had to contend with over the decades − is unprecedented.

To assure that Jordan will be able to continue carrying the burden of Syrian refugees, it is vital to provide immediate support to the country’s infrastructure. It is also essential to ensure that doing the right thing does not come at the expense of Jordan’s youth and the opportunities our next generation will have in life. And, finally, creating new job opportunities through industry, trade and investment is an essential part of our comprehensive approach, now and for the future.

The world needs to build hope for the refugee population we host, so that they become effective citizens in the future of Syria, equipped with education, skills and opportunities. The alternative is to push refugees to despair, crime and dependence. It is not an alternative we can live with for our region, for Europe or for the world.

Investing in peace and helping Jordan in a real and transformative way will support a country that has been tried and tested throughout time, always emerging stronger for ourselves, stronger for our friends and stronger for our neighbourhood.