One million jobs are needed for refugees from Syria to improve their lives in neighbouring countries which have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis since the war started almost five years ago, the head of a major humanitarian relief agency said.
David Miliband, chief executive of the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), said refugees have no savings left, are struggling to get aid and are increasingly unable to support themselves and their families.
Many families have resorted to sending their children to work on the black market and financial difficulties also have left women and girls particularly at risk of being coerced into early forced marriage or survival sex, the IRC said.
Major donor governments will meet in London on Thursday for an international pledging conference to raise new funds to meet the needs of Syria’s 4.6 million refugees and another 13.5 million who need help within the country.
The conference, which comes as funding for the Syria crisis is critically low, is expected to discuss job opportunities for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where more than 90 percent of them live.
“This conference needs to end the fiction that the war in Syria is about to end,” Miliband, a former British foreign minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
“For all that Europe is under strain, Lebanon and Jordan have been bearing the greatest share of the Syrian refugee burden, and there needs to be a big combined social and economic response to help both refugees and host countries.”
Refugees must get more than short-term help and need to provided with economic opportunities so they can contribute to the societies they live in, said Miliband.
He said the creation of one million work permits would be a first step to benefit refugees as well as host communities.
The IRC proposes to create 200,000 work permits for Lebanon and Jordan respectively and 600,000 for Turkey, based on the numbers of refugees currently in those countries who are of working age and able to work.
Most refugees need a residency permit before they can work legally but they are often unable to afford the permits or illegal fees to obtain them, the IRC said in a statement.
As a result, millions have been pushed into poverty, with 69 percent and 64 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon respectively living in poverty in 2015, the IRC said.
Miliband urged the donor conference to prioritise work permits for teachers to speed up educating refugee children, as 200,000 children in Lebanon are still without education despite efforts by the government to improve the situation.
Host nations also need the support of major international institutions like the World Bank, which cannot work in Jordan and Lebanon because they are classified as middle income countries, he said.
Miliband stressed that better job opportunities for refugees in the region would also provide a positive knock-on effect for Europe, which received more than one million refugees and migrants in 2015, half of them fleeing the Syria’s civil war.
Miliband said a 3 billion euro ($3.25 billion) deal struck between the European Union and Turkey to curb the refugee crisis should be extended to Jordan and Lebanon.