Lessons from the Jordan Compact for Colombia

The 2016 Jordan Compact was created to address the protracted displacement of Syrian refugees in Jordan in an innovative way. The compact provided Jordan with billions of dollars in grants and loans, as well as substantial trade concessions, in order to improve the lives of refugees and host communities in partnership with the EU and the World Bank. The Jordan Compact allowed the facilitation of increased access to education and legal employment in the country. The compact also provides a roadmap—through its successes and failings—on how this model can be used for another situation of protracted displacement: the Venezuelan crisis.

The Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis is set to become the world’s largest displacement crisis by the end of this year. Human rights abuses, lack of access to basic services, hyperinflation, political repression and violence continue to force people out of Venezuela. Colombia has taken in more than 1.6 million Venezuelans, or about one third of the total number of Venezuelans seeking refuge, and more than any other host country. While this number continues to increase, neighboring countries continue to enact restrictive policies. Ecuador, Chile, and Peru require most Venezuelans to present a passport and evidence of a clean criminal record, both documents that are extremely difficult to acquire, to enter the country. Policies like these mean that Venezuelans are less and less likely to return home or continue on from Colombia to other countries.

When a Refugees International team traveled to Colombia in September 2019, we were told many times over that, while emergency humanitarian assistance remains critical, there needs to be increasing investment in the long-term economic response to the crisis.

Political will to make this change exists. The government of Colombia has enacted policies that make healthcare, education, and labor market access available to regularized migrants. In October of 2019, “humanitarian and development actors, financial institutions, civil society, and others” gathered at the International Solidarity Conference in Brussels, to demonstrate commitment to addressing the Venezuelan crisis.

As the international community works to make the shift towards a longer-term response, two lessons learned from the Jordan Compact must inform the process: the perspectives of displaced people must be heard in the planning and implementation process, and policies must be rooted in realities on the ground. These lessons illuminate ways that the compact was unable to effectively change the everyday lives of displaced people and their Jordanian hosts.

In Colombia, addressing the first issue would mean inclusive consultations with those affected by the crisis – Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Colombian IDPs, and host communities – as well as civil society organizations, that work closely with these populations, and the private sector, that is critical to a development focused approach to the crisis. If long-term economic integration is the goal, the points of view of each of these stakeholders must be considered.

To resolve the second issue, it is necessary to understand the factors that impede Venezuelans’ economic integration in Colombia. In the case of obtaining employment, for example, Refugees International found three major obstacles: limited infrastructure, rising xenophobia, and a lack of understanding on the part of both Venezuelans and employers about what rights Venezuelans have. Additionally, the vast majority of migrants in Colombia are engaged in the informal economy where they are subject to exploitation such as unfair wages and unsafe working conditions. Any regional response must both increase access to the formal economy and improve working conditions for all.

Understanding that they are facing protracted displacement, a Venezuelan refugee told Refugees International, “What we want more than anything are jobs.” Thankfully, the Colombian government has acknowledged many of the barriers to economic integration and is taking steps to address them. However, it is necessary that all actors involved in the response take the lessons from the Jordan Compact into consideration to make these, and any regional efforts, a reality.