Entering into its fourth year since 2011, the Syrian civil war has caused serious humanitarian crisis. More than 9 million have got displaced internally and around 3.5 million people have left the country. The neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan etc. have absorbed major influx, which has put heavy pressure on their economy as well as the labor market. Before learning the major impact of the Syrian refugees on the world, it is important to know how and why it started.
It all started when the Sunni population of Syria decided to protest against Basher Al-Assad, the brutal dictator of Syria. Basher al-Assad is an Alawite Shia. This religious group comprises 12% of the population of Syria. The tight control by Basher Al-Assad created resentment among the Sunni population of Syria, which comprises of 3/4th of its population. Unlike his father, the basis of his power relied on the promises made for the stability and openness of the economy and ending the isolation of Syria from the international market. But with the passage of time, reformists too criticised the government in the parliament because of stagnation in the economy, as very little was carried out by the president.
Not only the free market policies of the government, in which the prices are set freely by the consent of the buyers and suppliers, transformed the city of Damascus from a grim and old place to a city flooded by tourists and trendy restaurants but it also increased the gap between the rich and the poor. They empowered the private sector and opened doors for imports. But these policies only benefited small section of the people, who were in good relation with the government among them, only a few Sunnis. This was also the time when the country was hit by one of the worst drought from 2007 to 2010, which resulted in crop failure and increased the prices of food. To add to the misery of the population, the unemployment rate was at all time high at that time. Thus, the poor section of the society suffered the most and was agitated of the brutality, corruption and inequality.
To this the arrest of 15 teenagers sparked the fire. The children were allegedly tortured for making anti-government graffiti. The people moved to the streets protesting against the Assad regime and demanding the resignation of the president. Reacting to this, the Assad government replied by opening fire and killing hundreds. The human rights activists and the critics of the government were arrested and tortured in the prison.
This later turned into full-scale civil war, which demanded the democratic reforms and more freedom in Syria. As a result of which masses left the country and took refuge in the neighbouring countries.
Impact on neighbouring countries (Jordan):
There are around 0.61million refugees in Jordan, which comprises of around 10% of the population of Jordan. This has put immense pressure on the economy and the labor market of Jordan. The government is concerned about the availability of jobs, resources, houses for locals as well as the refugees.
According to the International Labor Organisation, the influx of the refugees has affected the new low – skilled job opportunity for the people of Jordan. The unemployment rate, which was high before the influx, is still the same i.e., around 14.5%. This could mean that the jobs taken up by the Syrians could have been available to the youth if not taken by them. This is mainly because the refugees accept the jobs even at poorer working conditions and lower wages than the Jordanians do. It could be seen in the construction industry where the share of refugees taking up new jobs is more than the youth of Jordan.
Due to crowding the competition in the labor market has also increased and so has the unemployment rate from 19 to 35% among the age group of 15-24 years. The informal labor market has increased as Syrians accept poor working conditions.
The health sector has also been affected by the influx and is experiencing financial strain as refugees are entitled to free services. This puts pressure on the health centres. Till now government expenditure on health services has been $53m and it needs to spend $135m more to provide the same level of service to coming refugees.
The agriculture sector has been worst affected as it contributes 4% to the GDP of Jordan because the incoming people are settling in small towns and villages where agriculture is the major livelihood of the people. The import bill has also increased due to 87% import of food in Jordan where as it has fallen to 50% in Syria.
The impact has not been all bad if seen from the industry perspective as it has increased demand as well provided cheap labor in Jordan. Till now it has provided $1billion to the Jordanian economy, which is expected to increase further.
Impact on Europe:
The death of a 3-year old child sparked public sympathy for the refugees coming to Europe. To this Germany opened its border and showed its readiness to take more Syrian refugees and set out a European solution to policy incoherence. But a week later both Germany and Austria closed their border and suspended their participation in Schengen treaty which allows visa free travel among the European countries.
In Hungary, PM Viktor Orban gave a free hand to the security forces to deal with illegal immigrants. But even after the construction of steel fence all around, migrants now enter via Greece and Croatia.
Refugees in the Middle East need at least 1 billion Euros ($1.1 billion) funding on an urgent basis. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey at fore front to refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war should also receive greater injections of EU assistance, maybe through a “substantial increase” in the EU’s Regional Trust Fund.
Opportunity for Europe:
The influx of Syrian refugees could prove a boon for Europe. When politicians are skeptical whether their country would be able to support the Syrians, economists are saying that the impact would be opposite. Since majority of workforce in Europe is ageing fast. More than 1/5th of the Europe’s population is more than 65 years old and this proportion is rising fast. The deaths when compared to births were large but the incoming population is young. They could satisfy the demand of labor in Europe.
The neighbouring countries where the Syrian refugees have taken asylum have combined population of less than 80 million but Europe has more than 50billion population with GDP of $18.5 trillion. Thus, the cost to give shelter to the refugees is not significant when compared to Europe’s GDP.
There are countries like Slovakia, which are hesitant in accepting the Islamic Refugees especially after Charlie Hebdo and the Copenhagen attack but have shown their readiness to accept Christian refugees.
Though they may increase immediate bill but in the long term the tax contributions by them would balance the bill, as they tend to pay more taxes than the benefits received in their asylum. Since, the refugees are mostly young the net contribution will be positive given their age in which they would start working and pay taxes.
The issue will be again put on table at the next meeting of EU head of states on Oct. 15-16 in Brussels.
Welcoming migrants makes sense for Europe.
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