Cameron tells EU to relax Jordan trade restrictions to help refugees

Cameron in Davos [YouTube]

British Prime Minister David Cameron will call on EU leaders to relax trade rules with Jordan to help spur economic growth and help “hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees across the region to work”. 

Before arriving at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Cameron said he would, together with Queen Rania of Jordan, discuss with business and political leaders on Friday (22 January) what steps could be taken to create economic opportunities in Jordan.

Cameron said he would press the EU to relax export rules for Jordan, making it easier for the country’s producers to qualify for duty-free access to EU markets and create jobs for refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, in meetings with European leaders on Wednesday and Thursday (20-21 January).

“These steps will provide real benefits to refugees in the region now, as well as enabling them to play a leading role in Syria’s reconstruction in the future,” he said in a statement.

“This is not just in the interests of Syria and her neighbours. It is in the interests of Europe, too. The more we do to enable people to stay in the region, the less likely we are to see them coming to Europe.”

>>Read: UK’s Cameron stays tough on refugees, draws Council of Europe criticism

More than 1 million refugees and migrants have fled the Middle East and Africa and entered the European Union in 2015, half of them Syrians fleeing civil war.

Britain, which is not part of the Schengen system of borderless travel within Europe, drew criticism from other EU leaders for not taking Syrian refugees stranded on Europe’s highways, and only agreeing to take 20,000 of them directly from Middle East camps.

Cameron said Britain will stage a pledging conference for Syria next month to raise billions of dollars in international aid for those fleeing Syria’s five-year conflict.

“We don’t just need to agree more money and more aid. We need to agree concrete action that will give hope to so many – jobs so they can provide for their families, and education for their children,” Cameron said.

“The EU has a vital role to play – coming together to offer genuine support for Syria’s neighbours. We should swiftly agree to change the rules so Jordan can increase its exports and create new jobs.” 

Miliband criticises EU

Meanwhile, David Miliband, former British foreign minister and head of humanitarian relief group the International Rescue Committee (IRC), criticised on Tuesday (19 January) the response of European governments, which he said started playing catch-up when more than half a million refugees arrived in Germany by the middle of last year.

He added that the refugee crisis is “here to stay” and the world needs to find new ways to deal with it. “It’s ten times harder or a hundred times harder to solve a problem if you start late,” Miliband said.

Miliband argued that the world needed to do more to resettle refugees and offer greater help to Syria’s neighbours which are hosting more than 4 million people who have fled Syria.

“At the moment in countries like Jordan and Lebanon the World Bank isn’t allowed to be active because they’re classified as middle income countries,” Miliband said.

He said the nature of global crises and prolonged instability in many regions meant that refugees often remained in host countries for many years.

“The old model of help for refugees, which is that you’ve got short term social service and that came from the international community and when the war was over you went home, that’s broken down because the average refugee is out of their own country for 17 years,” Miliband said at an event in London.

>>Read: UK to hit immigrants with tough sentencing

He said the EU’s fund for refugees in Turkey should be extended to Jordan and Lebanon and refugees should be allowed to work in the countries hosting them. This would help to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, he said.

“The biggest driver for them to become refugees into Europe is that they’re getting no support in the neighbouring states that they fled to,” Miliband said at the launch of public relations firm Edelman’s annual “Trust Barometer” survey.

“The new bargain has got to be that people are allowed to work in the countries that they move to as refugees.”

The former foreign minister, who left British politics in 2013, said that it was a myth that by withdrawing from the European Union, Britain would isolate itself from the problems associated with growing numbers of refugees. 

“The UK leaving the European Union does not change geography, it doesn’t shift reality, it doesn’t change the mindset of the people who are fleeing from Syria or from Afghanistan or from elsewhere,” Miliband said.

“In fact … ‘Brexit’ would leave Britain more exposed not less exposed because it would … make cooperation more difficult and would actually … move the customs post from Calais to Dover.”

More than 1 million refugees and migrants came to the European Union in 2015, half of them Syrians fleeing civil war.

  • 18-19 February: EU summit will seek to obtain a deal ahead of the UK referendum on EU.
  • 17-18 March: EU summit with migration as main topic.

Subscribe to our newsletters