‘People want to stay in their own region’ – prospects for refugees from Syria and Iraq

18.04.2016 – The ‘Changing World’ debate: how we can support refugees in neighbouring countries.

What can be done to help the millions fleeing civil war in Syria and Iraq and seeking refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and northern Iraq? This was the subject of a discussion on 12 April between Gerd Müller, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Tanja Gönner, Chair of the GIZ Management Board, and Salah Ahmad of the Jiyan Foundation, which supports survivors of torture and violence in Iraq. The discussion formed part of the ‘Changing World’ series organised jointly by the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. It was chaired by Tagesspiegel editor Ulrike Scheffer.

Salah Ahmad himself came to Germany as a refugee, 32 years ago. Now a qualified psychotherapist specialising in children and young people, he regularly travels to northern Iraq to help on the ground. Asked about the factors that have triggered the current wave of refugees arriving in Europe, he described the situation in refugee camps: ‘Rations have been cut, and tents were 10 centimetres deep in water. People had absolutely no hope.’ This, he explained, is why so many have fled to Europe.

Gerd Müller, Germany’s Development Minister, confirmed Ahmad’s assessment of the situation: ‘If there is so little solidarity that people cannot survive there, they have no option but to come to Europe,’ he said. However, around 90 per cent of Syrian and Iraqi refugees are still in the region and so, he stressed, it makes much more sense to look after people there: ‘It costs us between 20 and 50 times more to accommodate and integrate individuals in Germany.’

Tanja Gönner, Chair of the GIZ Management Board, added ‘People want to stay in their own region, speak their own language and live in their own culture.’ This is why it is so important to create prospects for people locally, she said. Working on behalf of the German Government, GIZ is, for example, ensuring that children from refugee families are able to go to school. Schools are being built or extended in Turkey to accommodate Syrian children in the afternoons alongside their Turkish counterparts.

Finding work brings people the sense of having a future, so thousands of jobs are also being created in the region. With finance from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, refugees are being paid for doing work that benefits the community, such as erecting tents, digging sewers, laying gravel paths and disposing of waste. Training in skilled trades is also being provided, enabling many refugees to earn a living not just now, but also in future: it is important to create prospects for the time when they are finally able to return home.

In the meantime, Germany intends to substantially increase its contribution to resolving the situation in and around Syria. At the recent donor conference in London, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that Germany will contribute a total of EUR 2.3 billion between now and 2018.