The Guest Blog

Chris Sorek, Director of Communications at Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa.

 

The fragile ceasefire in Syria is in effect, sort of. Aleppo and other cities are still under attack but some the intensity elsewhere has lessened. The flow of refugees from Turkey into Europe has slowed down. But, we shouldn’t believe the refugee problem is over. While there may be some semblance of peace in parts of Syria, people aren’t returning. ISIL and other warring factions remain active across the country. The economy is in ruins, infrastructure destroyed, and communities devastated. And, the friction between ethnic and religious groups has turned neighbors against each other. Refugees will not be going back to Syria anytime soon.

So while many people think the cease fire gives some breathing space for deciding what to do, they couldn’t be more wrong. Millions of refugees live in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Most live in cities like Kilis, Amman and Beirut. Today, more than 500,000 refugee families, about the same number of families in Vienna, live in garages, workshops, or partially destroyed buildings that don’t meet minimum humanitarian standards. There’s no sanitation, sewage, electricity, or running water. There’s no employment, school spaces, or social assistance. The refugees are caught between the rock and hard place—either live in unhealthy and insecure situations or return to a warring, devastated homeland. Not much of a choice.

At the February 2016 London donor conference, $11 billion was earmarked for Syrian refugees. Things looked a bit brighter. However, a recent evaluation of humanitarian response in the region found that the sheer size of need has overwhelmed an already overtaxed UN/NGO sector. So, how long will it take that money to trickle down to the refugees and their host countries. And, where does the solution start? Employment is part of the answer. Having a decent place to live is another. Both increase self-esteem, stability and self-reliance.

Studies have shown that for every one housing and construction job created, two new jobs are generated. Injecting just a small portion of the pledged funds, about 1% per month into housing in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey would create jobs for both local craftsmen and refugees. For example, if just $11 million were invested monthly in house renovation or construction over the next eight months, by the end of 2016, 54,000 homes could be created for more than 280,000 people which is about 20% of the refugees in Jordan or Lebanon. Local and national economies would get a big boost and communities would be stabilized. And, there would be a real peace dividend. Once the refugees return home, the houses that were built and renovated would provide much needed shelter for many low income and poor. Sure, governments want land use guarantees. That can be done if there’s a political will to make it happen. And EU can play a role to ensure it is there.

Housing may not be a game changer but it could play a major role in turning around an untenable refugee situation in three countries. Housing creates employment, puts a roof over peoples’ heads, and develops a sense of worth that is needed to build a lasting peace. That’s what should happen next.

Editor’s note: European governments need to realize that the flow refugees will only continue to grow. Since the problem will not go away, we need a legal and practical framework for the housing of refugees.

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