sustainable development zone construction.jpg

Sustainable Development
Zones & Refugee Cities


Using SDZs to Create Better Options for Migrants

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

SDZs are a variant of the Refugee Cities concept launched by Politas founder Michael Castle-Miller in 2015. These are areas where displaced people and the local population can together access safe, affordable housing; find employment; and start and operate businesses in the formal sector.

Significant strides have already been made toward developing migrant-inclusive zones. Since founding Refugee Cities, the concept has been a discussion topic in major publications and influenced policy at the United Nations, World Bank, and within other international organizations. It is now a mainstream policy point in discussion at the highest levels of government in Europe, Asia, and North America.

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 couldn’t happen otherwise due to political pressure, bureaucracy, and other significant complications that vary according to the region. 

Politas is currently carrying out a project in Ethiopia under the support of UN Habitat alongside partners Kilian Klienschmidt and Joachim Rücker, with the support and cooperation of European governments and host countries in Libya, Ethiopia, and other locations.

Refugee Cities and Similar Policies in Jordan

Along with Ethiopia and other North African countries, Jordan has also made significant strides toward developing migrant-inclusive zones. 

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. It covers fifty-two product groups and will last for ten years.

Also, in 2016, the World Bank launched a $300 million loan to improve Jordan’s investment climate, attract investment, implement labour market reforms, and allow the Syrian labour force to further Jordan’s economic growth. 

As a result of these new programs, Jordan set a goal to bring 200,000 Syrian refugees into the formal labour market and began to issue work permits free of charge to Syrians for a three-month period. It also removed the requirement of a valid passport to obtain a work permit – a requirement that was impossible for many Syrians to fulfill. Instead, Ministry of the Interior identification cards can now serve as a substitute for a passport.

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