Refugee Energy: Tap It!

By Shlomo Maital


My friend and colleague Prof. Dan Shechtman (Nobel, Chemistry, 2011) has been tirelessly touring the world with a message: For poor and emerging countries, the way to a better life is technology-driven entrepreneurship and startups.

   Today’s Hebrew language newspaper Haaretz has some proof.

   Journalist Zvi Barel, who tracks events in countries bordering Israel, writes about startup energy in the midst of great misery – in refugee camps in Turkey and in Jordan, packed with Syrians fleeing the chaos and genocide in their country.

     Al-Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan and other camps have one million refugees, living in great squalor. Turkey has camps with even more refugees, 2.5 million.

     In Za’atari, recounts Barel, “Ra’shim” , from Aleppo, ravaged by war, fled his city three years ago. In the camp there are a great many shops opened by refugees. By one count – there are 3,000 small businesses (in the camp, and in nearby Jordanian cities) with monthly revenues of $13 million. I wrote about one such shop in an earlier blog – a shop that rents wedding dresses.   Aided by the Oasis 500 fund in Jordan, Ra’shim opened a website to enable these shops to sell on the Internet, and raised 3 million dollars. He now has branches in Dubai and Oman, employs many young Jordanians and Syrians and plans to expand.

     Some of the small shops and businesses in the camps in Turkey have been begun to employ local Turks, in significant numbers.

     Satellite photos show that nearly 60 per cent of Aleppo has been destroyed. It will take 7-8 billion dollars to rebuild it. Oil-rich Arab nations have the money, but will never contribute such sums. So when this awful Syrian civil war ends, it will be up to people like Ra’shim, with entrepreneurial energy, to rebuild their country, with minimal resources.

     And they will.

     The incompetent EU has now more or less decided to bribe Turkey to stop the flow of immigrants. Does anyone in the EU wonder, whether an injection of entrepreneurial energy like that of Ra’shim could revive Europe’s dead economy, and generate entrepreneurship where virtually none exists, like in France? Did anyone in the EU consider giving a small fraction of the $3 billion bribe to Turkey, directly to refugees and refugee entrepreneurs?  

     In Silicon Valley, a high percentage of startups are launched by Indians, Israelis, Chinese and others?   Precisely what the EU needs – but will now not get, because it cannot see its nose in front of its face.