UN appeals to private sector for Syrian refugee aid

UN appeals to private sector for Syrian refugee aid

International corporations have both an economic and a moral imperative to pitch in, says deputy high commissioner

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Thomas Elexander Aleinikoff speaking at the World Economic Forum, May 26 (photo credit: Youtube image/WEF)
Thomas Elexander Aleinikoff speaking at the World Economic Forum, May 26 (photo credit: Youtube image/WEF)

DEAD SEA, Jordan — The United Nations Refugee Agency is turning to the private sector to fund critically needed services for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, a UN official has told The Times of Israel.

Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Thomas Alexander Aleinikoff said Sunday he had come to the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea to draw the attention of large international corporations to the acute needs of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries over the past two years.

Aleinikoff said the corporations’ response was generally very good, in light of what he called “the largest refugee flow in a generation.”

Corporations’ impetus to help refugees is two-pronged, Aleinikoff noted. First, they understand that a healthy economic and social system in the Middle East is good for business; and second, they bear a moral responsibility toward countries in which they are active, encapsulated in corporate social responsibility sectors maintained by many companies.

“People here are willing to help if we can show a specific need and a specific way their help will have an impact on the lives of human beings,” he said.

In addition to the 1.5 million refugees who have fled Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that between three and four million Syrians remain internally displaced.

Neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, two countries with scarce resources, have borne the main brunt of the refugee influx; with nearly half a million Syrian refugees in each, Lebanon has absorbed over 10 percent of its population in refugees. That number could climb to a quarter of Lebanon’s population and 15 percent of Jordan’s by the end of 2013, Aleinikoff said.

While much of the money allocated for Syrian refugees comes from the United States and European Union, Arab Gulf states are gradually growing more involved. Kuwait pledged $100 million earlier this year, Saudi Arabia sent containers for refugees at Jordan’s Zaatari camp to live in, and the United Arab Emirates built a new refugee camp in Jordan.

Even when fighting in Syria desists, Aleinikoff added, the country will take years to rebuild and refugees will likely remain in their host countries for some time. Therefore, international investment in refugee camp infrastructure is imperative.

“If you build a school or a clinic, that will [eventually] benefit local communities as well,” he said.

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