Sustainable Development Zones

Using SDZs to Create Better Options for Migrants

Sustainable development zones and refugee cities as an alternative to refugee camps

Politas has been helping host countries benefit from refugees and internal migrants through the use of sustainable development zones (SDZs). 

As special-status areas, SDZs have the power to address the major legal, regulatory, and administrative barriers to inclusive economic growth. These are reforms that can’t happen nationwide yet due to political pressure, bureaucracy, and other significant complications that vary according to the region. SDZs help countries address multiple challenges at once, from responding to forcibly displaced populations to rapid urbanization and informality.

Politas is currently carrying out a project in Ethiopia under the support of UN Habitat alongside partners Kilian Klienschmidt and Joachim Rücker. Our efforts are also broadly supported by the German government and other public and private stakeholders.

Refugee Cities and Similar Policies in Jordan

SDZs are a variant of the Refugee Cities concept, promoted by Politas founder Michael Castle-Miller in 2015. Since that time, the Refugee Cities concept has helped spark a transformation in the approach to refugee response and integration. This new approach relies on cities and inclusive special economic zones – as opposed to camps – where migrants and the local community are able to find work, housing, and better livelihoods together.

The Refugee Cities concept and others like it helped to inspire the Jobs Compacts. A growing trend, these agreements give refugees visas and work rights within special zones.

As one example, in 2016, Jordan formed a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) to attract EU-oriented investors to Jordan’s SEZs who would employ both Syrians and Jordanians. The agreement grants manufacturers in eighteen of Jordan’s industrial zones access to the European common market if at least 15% of their employees are Syrian refugees.

The World Bank supported these efforts with a $300 million loan. As a result of these new programs, Jordan has set a goal to bring 200,000 Syrian refugees into the formal labor market.

Forging a New Path Through Sustainable Development Zones

We believe these examples are just the start in showing how countries around the world can address the migrant crisis in a compassionate, secure, and economically advantageous way. 

New investments can and should benefit refugee communities along with the local population. Such programs stimulate the economy, reward the companies involved, and help displaced people and their families to rebuild and find meaningful work. This concept could be the new standard for regions facing an influx of migrant families, and it offers a more sound and just future for our increasingly global economy. 

To learn more about our work in this area, or to discuss a project in your region, contact us today