Since the Second World War, the dominant response to refugees has been providing food, shelter and basic services to refugee populations, primarily in designated camps and in most part through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A key motivation for this type of response among host countries has been to shield their economies and labour markets from the impact of refuges. This 'care and maintenance' model has led to unfair burdens on countries hosting refugees and has frustrated international donors that cover the direct financial costs of the support. At the same time, keeping refugees away from economic activity and labor markets has shown to be very difficult in practice. Recognizing the protracted nature of many displacement situations, several efforts have been made over the years to develop new models of refugee assistance that aim to integrate humanitarian assistance and development-oriented programs allowing refugees to develop self-sufficiency and, more recently, to contribute to economic development in the host countries. Access to labor markets is considered a key element in such models.
The project Refugees for Development explores experiences from three initiatives where refugees in different ways are allowed access to labor markets in host countries: 1) The Jordan Compact, which seeks to provide jobs to 200.000 Syrian refugees while Jordan at the same time is provided loans and access to international import markets; 2) The Jobs Compact in Ethiopia, where refugees are permitted to take up jobs in newly established industrial parks and hence contributing to Ethiopia's industrialization strategy; and 3) the rights provided to refugees in Uganda through the 2006 Refugees Act, which allows refugees to take up work, own land, and to settle freely outside camps.
Until now, the project has generated two published articles and collected a large amount of data mad material that are in the process of being turned into more articles and a documentary film on refugees and access to jobs in Ethiopia and Uganda. Preliminary results from the project indicate large gaps between the theory and visions behind the new models and the contextual reality on the ground in the three countries that the project covers. The work from Uganda shows that lack of development and economic opportunity in rural areas prevent refugees to take advantage of the open and progressive refugee policy in the country. Lack of development initiatives in rural areas seem to be a barrier for refugees' ability to achieve self-dependency. Furthermore, the lack of economic opportunity leads to a concentration of refugees in settlements where humanitarian support is distributed, and prevents integration with local populations.
In Jordan, there was also a wide gap between the original model of the Jordan Compact and the reality in the Jordanian labor market from the outset of the programme in 2016. However, this gap has been significantly reduced over time, through several adjustments made to the work permit regime of the compact. Work permits have become more flexible and valid for more sectors, making work permits more attractive to refugees. Furthermore, there are signs that granting work permits to Syrians has led to more decent work for refugees and strong indications that refugees feel more secure in their jobs and in the Jordanian society in general by having a work permit.
Implementation of the Jobs Compact in Ethiopia has been slow due to political circumstances as well as high national unemployment rates. Unlike the Jordan Compact, the Jobs Compact in Ethiopia has not been adjusted over time to fit the reality on the ground, and the idea that refugees should primarily be granted work permits in industrial zones is still valid. However, as in the first phase of the Jordan Compact, recruiting refugees to work in such zones has proved difficult due to low wages and unattractive working conditions and location of the zones. Due to the present conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan liberation front there is little hope that the Jobs Compact will progress soon.
The project has also looked at refugee compact models in a more theoretical perspective, i.e. the perspectives on refugees that underlies such models, and the strive for integrating humanitarian aid and development support in the models. These aspect are primarily discussed in the light of refugees as economically productive individuals in a capitalistic perspective, and in a center-periphery perspective where the global North sets premises for refugee hosting countries in the South as well as the role of refugees.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ethiopia, the planned end date of this project has been extended by one year. This means that all results will be ready during 2022.
The main development challenge addressed in this research proposal is on ways of responding to humanitarian needs of refugee populations while at the same time contributing to longer-term development needs in the countries and communities hosting the refugees. The primary objective of the proposed project is to establish the knowledge foundation on the nexus of humanitarian assistance and development that will directly feed into and enhance policy and practice. This objective will be critically and empirically examined through three case studies of initiatives aimed at integrating humanitarian assistance with that of long term development in forced displacement responses, and with special attention to initiatives to involving displaced populations’ in host countries labour markets. The selected cases are: 1) Syrian refugees in Jordan, with special attention to the Jordan Compact; 2) refugees in Ethiopia, with special attention to the recently established Jobs Compact; and 3) refugees in Uganda, with special reference to the rights provided to refugees through the Ugandan 2006 Refugee Act. The research will be organized around the three selected case studies, which also constitute the main work packages of the project. The case studies will be designed in a way that maximizes the possibility of comparison and synthesis of lessons. To do this, the case studies will be conceptually and methodologically organized according to a Theory of Change (ToC) framework in combination with an actors-based approach, i.e. each aspect related to the ToC framework will be examined from, and compared between, the different viewpoints of the all actors, at different levels, involved in the initiatives (policy makers, development and humanitarian practitioners, displaced populations and host communities, and private actors). Data will be collected through interviews with all actors involved in the individual case initiatives, complemented by statistical datasets and document sources.