The UN's Global Compact on Refugees, adopted late last year, floats the possibility of trade arrangements that incentivize local businesses to hire refugee labor. A trade deal between the EU and Turkey that grants access to European markets for agricultural goods produced in Turkey with a threshold level of Syrian labor could prove beneficial for both parties — and for millions of displaced Syrians.
Stories by Jessica Brandt
The Syrian displacement crisis is about to get worse
In Idlib, Syria's last opposition-held province, millions are bracing for what could be a catastrophic government assault. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called the looming offensive a “perfect storm” that threatens the wellbeing of large numbers of already vulnerable civilians. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that concern, remarking that many “will suffer from this aggression,” while President Trump cautioned that “hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.”
Why it matters: The warnings are justified. An estimated 3 million civilians reside in the province, many of whom have already been displaced from other parts of Syria by seven years of violence and surrender deals with the government. According to Mistura, more than 2 million people in Idlib are already in need of humanitarian assistance, and the brunt of the expected assault has yet to begin.
The assault could be brutal. Russian officials have claimed knowledge of a plan by “militants” to stage a false chemical weapons attack in Idlib, with the goal of framing Assad’s forces. But Secretary of Defense Mattis has said there is “zero intelligence” to support that claim: It is Assad’s government that has a record of using chemical weapons against civilians, and Mattis noted that the Pentagon is “very alert” to the grisly possibility that it could do so again. “There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared,” said the new U.S. adviser for Syria on Thursday.
If violence intensifies, hundreds of thousands could try to flee across the border into Turkey. That country already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, the world’s largest share. Particularly against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis, a spate of new arrivals would likely exacerbate inter-communal tensions, which have been on the rise. Turkish President Erdogan has pledged “to facilitate the return home of all our guests,” referring to Syrians already in Turkey. Not least in light of the coming assault, those returns hardly seem safe. As more Syrians arrive, those calls could escalate.
The bottom line: For more than seven years, displaced Syrians have endured a wrenching plight. It seems likely to get worse.
Jessica Brandt is a fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.
Turkey's economic woes could spell trouble for Syrian refugees
Turkey is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, raising fears about its impact on the more than 3.5 million Syrians who now reside there, having fled seven years of violence at home.
The big picture: These woes could result in a decrease in discretionary spending on social service programs that benefit refugees. It could, for example, slow efforts to get Syrians into primary school and vocational training programs. That said, the crisis may not make as substantial a difference in practice to these endeavors as some fear.
First, spending on programs that benefit non-citizens was already politically unpopular. Especially at the local level, Turkish government efforts on behalf of refugees have often been quiet, and can continue to be. Second, at least some of the funding for these efforts comes from the EU–Turkey deal, which is not affected by the downturn. More broadly, as the Turkish lira weakens, Euros are likely to go further than before.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for concern. Competition in the informal labor market will likely become tougher. Growth is expected to slow significantly at a time when unemployment figures were already rising. That could increase vulnerability to exploitative work conditions. It could also result in an uptick in child labor, indirectly resulting in a decline in school enrollments and attendance.
What to watch: Meanwhile, if Assad launches a full-scale assault in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib, the country’s last remaining opposition stronghold, more than 2 million Syrians could try to flee to Turkey. Especially against the backdrop of economic crisis, that could further exacerbate intercommunal tensions already on the rise.
Jessica Brandt is a fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. Kemal Kirişci is a senior fellow and director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution.