As Refugee Hosts Feel Strain, Leaders Make Push for More Funding

  • Money sought for the Global Concessional Financing Facility
  • Jordan, Lebanon say refugee programs pose economic challenges

International leaders gathered in Washington on Friday to push for additional financing of middle-income nations that are accepting refugees, bucking a trend of increased protectionism that has many people calling for tighter borders.

Ministers and deputy prime ministers from countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Canada and Sweden hailed the Global Concessional Financing Facility during a panel discussion, pleading for more money in the fund that supports host nations that aren’t eligible for the same kind of financing as their poorer counterparts. The leaders are in Washington this week for meetings at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The financing facility has received more than $370 million in donor pledges since its inception at the UN General Assembly in September. It is especially targeted at Lebanon and Jordan, which host the most refugees by share of their overall population, and is meant to meet humanitarian and economic aims in handling the flows of refugees, especially those from Syria.

“It is important to stay the course” in funding, said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who participated in the panel. The private sector also should do more to contribute to the fund, Grandi said.

Global Tension

The discussion comes at a time of heightened global tension about how to resolve the refugee crisis, which stems largely from the conflict in Syria. President Donald Trump has attempted to block people from entering the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries by executive order, citing possible security risks, while the topic has become a point of contention in Europe, including this weekend’s presidential election in France.

While it’s still early to measure the effects of the fund’s disbursements, Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive officer of the World Bank Group, said global leaders should find a way to lower borrowing costs for the middle-income host countries, which would allow them to embark on much-needed infrastructure projects to accommodate the new population.

Jordan’s refugee program is increasing poverty levels and straining public finances amid growing demand for health and education services, according to Imad Fakhoury, the country’s minister of planning and international cooperation. In a push to relieve the economic strains, the government has designed a program that matches the skill set of Syrian refugees with industries that typically import labor, he said.

Lebanon’s Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani echoed Fakhoury’s concerns about the burden on public finances, saying the program is reducing the availability of health care services. His country is trying to grant Syrians more work visas so they can join the formal jobs market.

After the War

Panelists emphasized that the needs of refugees will persist for years after the war’s eventual resolution. The financing facility is on track to reach the five-year funding plan of $1 billion in grants to support Jordan and Lebanon and an additional $500 million to support middle-income countries in future refugee crises, according to a World Bank statement Friday.

“We should not get complacent” about the current level of financing, said Lilianne Ploumen, minister for foreign trade and development in the Netherlands. “It’s relevant to people and it’s relevant to politics” to accommodate both native and foreign-born populations.

“Inequality is the mother of all crisis,” she said.

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