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The civil war in Syria is entering its third year, having displaced more than 3 million people. Most of these people leave all of their belongings behind, fleeing the country without crucial resources. Refugees find themselves entirely dependent on others, relying on the UN Refugee Agency, foreign governments, and other aid organizations to survive without employment or permanent housing.

While the prospects in refugee camps may seem bleak, some Syrian refugees have managed to attain financial independence by utilizing particular skills. Diar*, a young man who arrived at Iraq’s Domiz Camp last July, opened a tailor shop that served refugees and the surrounding community. He ran his own tailor shop for years in Damascus, helping his younger siblings go to school with his income.

When two explosions forced him to leave Syria and abandon his shop, Diar decided to bring his pressing machine with him in case he could use it as a source of income.

As one of more than 90,000 Syrian refugees living in the Kurdish region of Iraq and 31,000 living in Domiz alone, Diar recognized a potential market and used his family’s small camp space to create a new tailor shop.

With upfront help from the UNHCR, which provided him with the initial electricity and space to operate his business, Diar has managed to gain a loyal following. His customers laud his shop for its “quality and better service,” claiming that Diar has better prices than do businesses outside of the camp. Diar has also gained customers native to the region because of his competitive prices and good service.

Diar’s tailor shop may seem like an anomaly within the atmosphere of a refugee camp, but he is one of many business owners who have contributed to the camp economy in Domiz. Small-scale businesses are helping to reduce the demands on aid organizations by providing services for affordable prices. The businesses also help ensure that refugees do not lose their sense of autonomy after being forced from their own country.

While it is costly for the UNHCR to administer refugee camps, entrepreneurs are lessening the burden, using the help they receive from aid organizations to give back to their new communities.

* Name has been changed.

– Katie Bandera

Source: UNHCR The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Sierra_Leone_Conflict_diamonds
The Sierra Leone civil war destroyed the national economy, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. The civil war that ravaged the small west African nation from 1991-2002 was the impetus for a huge displacement of people within Sierra Leone, leading to a downturn in the economy that left almost 75% of the population living in extreme poverty.

Sierra Leone’s main export is diamonds. Diamonds have created a significant wealth gap in Sierra Leone that has benefited the rich and paralyzed the poor for decades. The country’s dependence on this single mineral resource impedes economic growth. In order for Sierra Leone to lift itself out of abject poverty, the economy must diversify. Economic diversification is exceptionally difficult, however, with around 50% of the adult working population working in subsistence agriculture. Luckily, the IMF set up a program in 2010 to deliver $45 million to Sierra Leone through 2013.

Over the last few years, Sierra Leone has developed its offshore oil resources as another source of income. This, however, does not negate the enormous need for international aid to power the development process and prevent increased in inequalit in Sierra Leone. In order for the economy to stabilize, foreign aid must be delivered on a consistent basis and domestic peace must be preserved at all costs.

– Josh Forgét
Source: BBC News, Rural Poverty Portal, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Human Trafficking Movie Project

The Future for South Sudan
A year ago, Sudan and South Sudan were on the brink of war, but this month a deal between the two countries was finally implemented, allowing production in South Sudan’s main oil field to resume. This region, the Palouge oil field, accounts for 80% of the country’s oil production and has not been operational for 16 months due to disputes regarding the export of the oil.

This resumption of operations marks a significant moment in South Sudan’s brief history. Since its independence two years ago, the nation has suffered dramatic setbacks to its economy. The fledgling nation’s GDP contracted by 52% last year alone, while government revenues from oil-backed loans were cut by 98%. Now, however, with a pipeline deal in place with the north, South Sudan will be able to ramp up production to pre-independence levels.

After the drastic cuts in expenditure necessitated by the cessation of oil production during the last two years, this influx of revenue should significantly boost the country’s economy. South Sudan will have to diversify away from oil as the primary revenue generator over the next few years as reserves disappear, however, for now, the hope remains that oil profits will allow this nascent economy to establish itself. A stable economic platform marks the first steps in allowing the country and its people to grow.

– David Wilson

Sources: The Economist
Photo: Royal African Society

Half of Syria Will Be in Need of Aid, Says UN
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly half of the population of Syria will be in need of foreign aid by the end of 2013. With nearly 8,000 people per day leaving the country with no sign of impending political compromise or end to the fighting, the UN estimates that there will be 3.5 million refugees by the end of the year, and 10 million in dire need of aid – with half of those being children.

The commissioner claimed that although he has been involved with long civil wars in the past, including refugee situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the current crisis in Syria is the most serious he has ever seen, calling it “the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.”

The situation is being compounded by already-low levels of foreign aid to organizations working to bring relief to refugees in the area. Unicef reported being underfunded by 70%, and the commissioner stated that foreign powers are unable to provide aid due to current economic conditions.

Besides the Syrian refugees who have fled the country for bordering nations, nearly three million Syrians remain displaced within the country’s borders and thus have very few opportunities for providing basic necessities, like consistent food and clean water – not to mention access to electricity.

The commissioner also noted the geopolitical implications of the Syrian civil war, saying that the stress placed on neighboring nations Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are very serious, saying “it’s the most dangerous of all crises.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

National Reconciliation in South SudanOver the past several decades, civil war has left an indelible mark on the country of South Sudan. In a provocative bid to move forward, South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar met with various civil society organizations to discuss a campaign for national reconciliation. Machar made headlines in 2011 with his public apology for his involvement in the Bor Massacre in 1991.

Set to launch in April, Vice President Machar’s campaign titled “A Journey of Healing for National Reconciliation” is modeled after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The campaign will initiate a dialog that can help the country’s factions move past previous atrocities and towards a future of mutual peace and understanding.

Machar is not without his critics though as several civil society organizations questioned both his motives and the timing for the push for national reconciliation in South Sudan. Foremost among those criticisms is Machar’s future ambition of seeking the candidacy for President. These criticisms notwithstanding, South Sudan has allocated funding for the training and deployment of individuals assigned the difficult task of mobilizing and engaging specific communities that will be required for a successful national reconciliation.

As challenging a goal that national reconciliation in South Sudan will be, it is far outweighed by the potential benefits of moving past the long-held grudges of the civil war. Regarding the civil war, Machar remarked that “The war created barriers among our people… The war has created trauma to all of us.”

Brian Turner

Source: Voice of America