As the Syrian crisis enters its seventh year, countries neighbouring Syria – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey- have become the epicentre of one of the most dramatic refugee crisis in modern history, as they have taken in around 5 million Syrians, over 90% of the fleeing population. According to governmental sources, Jordan is hosting some 1.266 million Syrians, of which 655,833 are officially registered as refugees. That means that Jordan has the second greatest ratio of refugees to citizens of any country in the world (only after Lebanon). It lets the country in a very complex and fragile situation, given the fact that ‘’as the stream of refugees continue, so does the pressure to adequately cater to needs, absorb potential, and mediate integration between the local and incoming populations.’
Within Jordan, the large influx of refugees to Zarqa governorate, particularly to Zarqa city, has added significant pressure to already-stressed local resources. Even before the surge of refugees, Zarqa was marred by economic decline, rising costs of living, and a poverty rate that has – unlike the rest of Jordan – increased in recent years. According to UNHCR, there are at least 100,000 Syrians in the entire governorate, roughly 40,000 of which live in Zarqa city. As a result, tensions between Jordanians and refugees – particularly among youth – continue to worsen.
In response to the structural challenges that youth in Zarqa face, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) has implemented two different projects in the city, namely Building Bridges to Understanding in Zarqa: Engaging Young People in Promoting Social Cohesion (BBtU) (from January 2017 to July 2017, carried out in collaboration with the International Institute for Non-Violent Action), and The Future of Our Journalism (FoOJ) -Mustaqbal Sahafutna- (from January 2015 to October 2016 ).
The first project aimed at empowering youth to be meaningful agents of social cohesion between the refugee and host communities in Zarqa through the provision of psychosocial support, trainings on conflict management, and opportunities to engage with community leaders. The second one aimed at enabling youth to identify political and socioeconomic issues of concern to them and their communities, and empowering them to take positive action in addressing those issues through the model of citizen journalism. Although the projects primary focused on civil society empowerment and social cohesion, their impacts span into other areas, including peace building and conflict resolution, as well as Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE).
Indeed, a number of the underlying conditions that drive frustration for the inability to have an agency in society, as well as those that lead to tensions between Jordanians and refugees, can be the same conditions that act as “push factors” for individuals who ultimately join violent extremist groups. Therefore, this research aims to bring together the lessons learned from the implementation of both projects, drawing connections between civil society empowerment and social cohesion, as two main pillars of any PVE policy that wants to be inclusive and participative to, and therefore owned by, the community that aims to serve. In other words, this paper exposes the importance and impact of investing in youth as a key agent of positive social change and PVE, by exploring how civil society empowerment and social cohesion components can maximise the potential of PVE projects.
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