Theo Clarke is Chief Executive of The Coalition for Global Prosperity. She also sits on the Boards of Conservative Friends of International Development and Africa House London, and was a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate at the 2017 and 2015 General Elections.
For those displaced by crisis, British aid is a ladder out of despair. It doesn’t just save lives, it can also transform the futures of some of the world’s most desperate people.
In Lebanon recently I saw the immediate needs of refugees being met by projects funded by British aid which deliver clean water, make housing habitable and provide temporary shelters for winter. But an added, and invaluable, part of aid’s impact is the long-term, sustainable solutions that it fosters. I saw this clearly during my three-day visit to Beirut and the Bekaa Valley.
In Bekaa I met women, both Syrian and Lebanese, who had been on a DfID-funded programme run by Save the Children that taught them the skills they needed to start their own small food production businesses. Not only has this training given the women involved an income, but for many, it is the first time in their lives that they have had any financial independence. For some women this meant they could provide the income that meant kept their children out of child labour, and in school instead.
It has also had a major impact on integration – a big issue for a country which has seen its population swell by 25 per cent following the influx of Syrian refugees. By training Syrians and Lebanese together, many went on to set up businesses together. For Syrians, this has not only given them new friends but also a stake in the society that is hosting them. I spoke to a woman called Mariam who set up a business with a Syrian friend who she met on the course. They now employ other Syrian and Lebanese women, and export the jams and pickles that they make as far afield as Kuwait. Here, our investment in aid is helping to transforming the lives of individual refugees as well as delivering long-term sustainable solutions towards the peace and security that is necessary for the region to recover from conflict.
This kind of intervention, that blends economic empowerment with social integration, is crucial to ensuring the stability of countries like Lebanon. The vast majority of people displaced by the Syrian conflict are in neighbouring countries and the refugees that I met all wanted to return home when the security situation had improved. The work of the UK in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey means that host countries are better able to cope with the refugee influx – and opportunities for refugees to support themselves through work are critical to this.
DfID’s economic development strategy sets out the importance of employment as a route out of poverty, and they are absolutely right to focus on investment in job creation in poor countries – but there is more that can be done to create chances for people to work in refugee situations too.
In Jordan, DfID used its influence as a major aid donor to encourage the Government to liberalise access to the labour market for Syrians. This not only helped more Syrian refugees provide for themselves, and become less reliant on aid, it also helped them to feel more at home – and provided a boost to Jordan’s economy. This kind of innovation echoes the work of the training programme I saw in Bekaa – using UK aid to provide opportunities rather than just assistance.
Every time I see the impact of British aid first-hand, I am inspired by what our commitment achieves for the world’s poorest and most desperate people. In Lebanon, we are providing vital services for people who have fled unimaginable horrors. But we are also using UK aid to empower and integrate refugees, to help build the stability which limits onward refugee flows and give people a chance to help themselves in the long term.