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The Refugee Question in the Middle East: Towards Sustainable Solutions

Date & Time

Jun. 17, 2021
10:30am – 12:00pm ET


On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, the Middle East Program and the Atlantic Council IN TURKEY hosted a panel which highlighted regional voices about the challenges refugees are facing in the region, with a focus on Syrian women, youth and children, together with practitioners in the field who understand what strategies have worked so far to address the displaced people’s needs beyond the basic humanitarian packages including the capacity of host communities to strengthen resilience and promote social cohesion. Women and children, many of which are orphaned, are particularly vulnerable, together representing over half the displaced across the region. Protecting and advancing their developmental needs including their right to education and to pursue dignified work is especially challenging, leaving them with an uncertain future.

Selected Quotes

Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)

"I think it's really important to think about refugees not just as a burden on society, but to think about them as consumers and contributors because they actually add to economic growth, they add to economic development. The World Bank has done some interesting studies on the Syrian refugee population in this regard, highlighting the degree to which they have increased GDP in their host countries through their consumption, through the assistance that we provide, but also through their entrepreneurship and their activity. So, the more that we can encourage governments to allow them to work and to contribute and to create—and they will be taxpayers, they will be contributing to revenue—the more sustainable solutions that we can provide and give them the dignity of sustaining themselves and their families. So I think that is really the direction that we need to go."

Watch Clip

“A decade into the conflict, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains the largest displacement crisis in the world, with depths of suffering that continue to reach new lows.”

“Given this protracted displacement, we can’t just look at the response to the needs of these populations as short-term interventions to keep people alive. We need longer term development solutions.”

Jomana Qaddour, Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs, Atlantic Council

"Education aid is… very interesting because it's neither humanitarian aid… It’s considered stabilization aid, but at the same time, it's necessary. It's needed now. I mean, we're talking about kids that have not gone to school in 10 years. What that does for the future of Syria, even if the political problems were to go away tomorrow… It actually provides a very scary picture. We have children that cannot read and write, and much less be able to process and [have] critical thinking that will be necessary for rebuilding a country and a government later on."

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Louisa Vinton, Resident Representative, UNDP, Turkey

"What has struck me particularly upon arrival is the uniqueness of the Turkish approach, [as well as the] inclusiveness and generosity, that the Syrian refugees are included in education, in the community, in public service provisions. So there are now 830,000 children in Turkish schools. The 2 million Syrian refugees who are of working age have the right to participate in the labor force legally… And as has already been mentioned, they do have access to health care provisions—and to vaccines—which I think is really an extraordinary offering here that's now being realized in Turkey. We see the rollout of vaccines happening very, very quickly now. And also, the refugees are not confined to camps or in a specific area. There is a large number in the southeast, but obviously refugees are all over the country. And the scale of Turkish support, so far numbers [are] up to 40 billion US dollars, so [there is] a huge commitment by the Turkish government to inclusion, self reliance, and… harmonization, or the inclusion in the life of the national community."

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Lara Shahin, Director General manager of the Jasmine Foundation in Jordan

"I started my business to economically empower Syrian refugee women, like me, who were looking for any opportunity to help her lead a dignified life."

“I have a challenge. As a Syrian, I cannot use Paypal, I cannot receive payments.” 

“In terms of the challenges that many Syrian refugees face in starting a business, but also making sure that this business is moving forward, is the lack of opportunities for Syrian entrepreneurs to incubate their businesses. We need access to incubators ” 

“[There is] a rise of gender-based violence, but particularly violence against women due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures in Jordan have certainly risen. So one of the things that [my] organization led was a campaign called Survivors, to empower women to tell their story and inspire others to do the same.” 

Buket Bahar Divrak, Deputy General Coordinator, ASAM

"Today, Turkey hosts about 3.6 million Syrian refugees under temporary protection, and in addition to Syrians, we have… more than 400,000 non Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and many other nationalities. So these figures make Turkey the country with the largest refugee population. And among the Syrians, about 1.7 million of them are children under the age of 18, and more than half [a] million are under the age of five, meaning that they’re born in Turkey."

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Ambassador James Jeffrey, Chair of Middle East program at the Wilson Center.  

"Those areas that are not under Assad's control….the Northwest, the Northeast… and the South, are highly unlikely to fall under his control. There has been, other than some fighting in Idlib—which in the last round the Turks won—there has been no major change on the battlefield in the last two years in Syria… This poses a problem for the administration, and frankly for the Turks as well, because neither the US nor the Turks want to move beyond security cooperation with their various allies and partners on the ground… and various humanitarian and stabilization assistants and move into governance."

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Since 2019, MEP has hosted policy discussions focused on changing the narrative of displacement from one that focuses solely on short term crisis management to long-term solutions that sees this challenge as an opportunity for human development.

Atlantic Council IN TURKEY has been working on providing policy recommendations on Turkey’s refugee response, Syrian refugees’ economic and social inclusion in the country as well as Syrian women empowerment through in-depth research and high-level policy discussions.

Hosted By

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Middle East Women's Initiative

The Middle East Women's Initiative (MEWI) promotes the empowerment of women in the region through an open and inclusive dialogue with women leaders from the Middle East and continuous research.  Read more

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