BAQAA REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — Germany proposes creating up to 500,000 short-term jobs to help Syrian refugees survive in overburdened Middle Eastern host countries, the minister for economic cooperation said during a visit to Jordan on Tuesday.
Germany will raise the idea at next week's annual Syria aid conference in London, Gerd Mueller told The Associated Press.
"It's called cash for work, to employ Syrian refugees, but also unemployed Jordanians ... in building schools, infrastructure," Mueller said, adding that participants would be paid about 300 euros ($325) a month.
Germany would initially contribute 200 million euros ($217 million), with money to start flowing in mid-2016, and would ask other donors to contribute, according to a handout from his delegation.
"This program ... can create 500,000 jobs in the whole region with 2 billion" euros, Mueller said in Jordan's Baqaa refugee camp, established almost half a century ago for Palestinian refugees, but now housing thousands of displaced Syrians.
Almost 4.3 million Syrians have fled civil war since 2011 and most remain in the region, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Some 1.2 million are registered in Lebanon and about 630,000 in Jordan, most living outside formal refugee camps.
Over the past year, cuts in food and cash support for refugees — a result of severe aid shortfalls — helped trigger an exodus from the region to Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have reached Europe, many heading to Germany, because the cuts made life in host countries increasingly difficult.
The minister said he believes refugees want to stay close to Syria and return as soon as possible.
"That's why we need to invest here," he said after meeting with a Syrian family in Baqaa, north of the Jordanian capital of Amman. Spending money on refugees in the region is "20 times more effective" than what can be done in Europe, he said.
Labor rights for Syrian refugees in the regional host countries will be a key issue at the London pledging conference.
Jordan and Lebanon, faced with high domestic unemployment, prevent most refugees from working legally, though many hold low-paying informal jobs.
Mueller met with Jordan's prime minister, as well as ministers of planning and labor, to discuss solutions.
Jordanian officials, while short on specifics, have said they would offer a new approach in London, including setting up special economic zones to encourage foreign investment and potentially create thousands of jobs, including for Syrian refugees. Goods made there would have easier access to European markets.
Mueller said he supports the idea.
"Jordan needs investments, jobs, an outlook for the future of the country, for its own population and for the Syrian refugees," the minister said.
In London, Germany will advocate for "preferential trade arrangements, custom arrangements and tax privileges for investments in Jordan," he said.