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Article

Commentary: Why jobs in special economic zones won't solve the problems facing the world's refugees

...two Oxford professors, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, are calling on politicians to harness "the remarkable opportunities of globalisation" to reorient the refugee system away from humanitarian assistance and towards development...One of the "big ideas"... is that global capitalism can ride to the rescue of the refugee system through the creation of jobs for refugees within special economic zones (SEZs) in countries such as Jordan...the increased interest shown by the EU and international organisations such as the World Bank is certainly new and clearly reflects more recent political and economic developments – particularly in the EU and Jordan...

Evidence from SEZs in Asia shows how labour rights have been compromised, resulting in extremely low wages, forced overtime and different forms of abuse. So much so that in India they have been dubbed "special exploitation zones"...the Jordan Compact has so far benefited a small proportion of refugees despite huge political and financial effort.The reasons are complex...they reflect a failure on the part of governments and international organisations to engage with the complex realities of the Jordanian labour market – which is already highly dependent on migrant labour – and the needs and aspirations of refugees themselves. Within SEZs, the jobs on offer are typically low- or semi-skilled with long and repetitive hours. Those who have tried to hire Syrians in larger numbers, for example within the garment industry, have found that the take-up has been poor. Whereas other migrant workers are typically single, many Syrians struggle with childcare responsibilities and poor transport links from the places they are living to SEZs.

SEZs are a tool for creating livelihood opportunities for some refugees in some contexts. But addressing the profoundly political problems that underpin the drivers of forced migration and have come to mark the international community's response to it will require.. the kind of alliances and allegiances that challenge and confront some of the profound inequalities with which global capitalism has come to be associated.

Part of the following stories

"Myanmar's new government inherits problems and promise of special economic zones"

Access to work in Jordan & Lebanon for Syrian refugees, migrant workers & host populations