Due to the protracted conflict in Syria, refugees are turning into a serious challenge for the Mediterranean region with a significant spillover to Europe. Neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, have absorbed the bulk of close to 5 million Syrian refugees since 2011, constituting approximately 86% of all Syrian refugees, compared to 8% hosted by the European Union (EU). The refugee crisis has not only evolved in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in time of economic and political fragility, but it has as well rapidly hit Europe in a state of unpreparedness and economic uncertainty. Municipalities are at the forefront of it all.
In the MENA region, 86% of refugees live in cities which is reasonably higher than the 60% world average. This situation has forced municipalities and local authorities to assume key roles in managing the crisis by providing services and integrating refugees into their communities. The Syrian refugee influx has placed huge demands on municipal services such as waste management and housing. Local governments have had to expand their traditional responsibilities to provide education, employment, aid relief and emergency shelter, health, etc.
“Some of the biggest challenges currently facing municipalities include rent increases or scarcity in housing due to high demand, in addition to unemployment, as there are a lot of unemployed Jordanians and Syrians” said Imad Issa, Coordinator of the Emergency Response and Social Resilience Programme at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs in Jordan. “This puts considerable pressure on municipalities.”
Addressing the needs of municipalities
Host communities from both rims of the Mediterranean have shown extraordinary resilience to the crisis, yet they face similar challenges and voice common concerns. Exchanging challenges and best practices among those municipalities actively involved in managing the refugee crisis will allow them to jointly tailor effective responses; to strengthen their preparedness and adaptation skills; and to ensure the common welfare of refugees and host communities.
In this context, the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations Human Settlements program (UN-Habitat) held the first peer-to-peer learning workshop for communities hosting refugees, end of May in Amman, Jordan. Seventy representatives of municipalities and local governments from MENA, Turkey and Europe had the opportunity to exchange real case studies and discuss innovative actions in areas such as managing the influx, integrating refugees, preserving social cohesion, among others.