Germany proposes short-term jobs for 500K Syrians

BAQAA REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan -- Germany proposes creating up to 500,000 short-term jobs to help Syrian refugees survive in overburdened Middle Eastern host countries, the minister for economic co-operation said during a visit to Jordan on Tuesday.

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Germany will raise the idea at next week's annual Syria aid conference in London, Gerd Mueller told The Associated Press.

"It's called cash for work, to employ Syrian refugees, but also unemployed Jordanians ... in building schools, infrastructure," Mueller said, adding that participants would be paid about 300 euros ($325) a month.

Germany would initially contribute 200 million euros ($217 million), with money to start flowing in mid-2016, and would ask other donors to contribute, according to a handout from his delegation.

"This program ... can create 500,000 jobs in the whole region with 2 billion" euros, Mueller said in Jordan's Baqaa refugee camp, established almost half a century ago for Palestinian refugees, but now housing thousands of displaced Syrians.

Almost 4.3 million Syrians have fled civil war since 2011 and most remain in the region, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Some 1.2 million are registered in Lebanon and about 630,000 in Jordan, most living outside formal refugee camps.

Over the past year, cuts in food and cash support for refugees -- a result of severe aid shortfalls -- helped trigger an exodus from the region to Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have reached Europe, many heading to Germany, because the cuts made life in host countries increasingly difficult.

Thousands more Syrians are still trying to escape fighting in their homeland. This includes some 17,000 people, among them many women and children, who have amassed on the border with Jordan, waiting to be allowed to enter. Some have been living for months in the remote desert area without proper shelter, amid warnings by aid groups that conditions are deteriorating.

Jordan has only let in several dozen Syrians a day, citing concerns that Islamic State extremists will try to enter Jordan posing as refugees.

International aid officials have urged Jordan to speed up such checks and move refugees to an UN-run camp in Jordan that stands more than half empty.

Mueller said he asked Jordan's prime minister to "examine urgently if he can make an exception and to house these Syrian refugees in the UN camp."

At the London conference, labour rights for Syrian refugees in the regional host countries will be a key issue.

Jordan and Lebanon, faced with high domestic unemployment, prevent most refugees from working legally, though many hold low-paying informal jobs.

Jordanian officials, while short on specifics, have said they would offer a new approach in London, including setting up special economic zones to encourage foreign investment and potentially create thousands of jobs, including for Syrian refugees. Goods made there would have easier access to European markets.

Mueller said he supports the idea.

"Jordan needs investments, jobs, an outlook for the future of the country, for its own population and for the Syrian refugees," the minister said.

In London, Germany will advocate for "preferential trade arrangements, custom arrangements and tax privileges for investments in Jordan," he said.


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