Economic Integration of Syrian Refugees in Armenia - Concept development for a capacity-building program

As civil unrest in Syria transformed into full-blown civil war, the country’s ancient Armenian community was devastated. The Armenian authorities, however, were quick to respond, offering automatic citizenship to ethnic Armenians living in the Middle East. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 17,000 Syrian-Armenian fled from the war in Syria and sought protection in Armenia. According to UNHCR 14.633 Syrian-Armenian refugees are in Armenia as of 30 June 2016. Armenia garnered international praise in its efforts to assist the refugees. Syrian-Armenians were offered certain benefits, including housing, assistance with basic needs, Eastern Armenian and Russian classes, community centers, favourable small business loans, and so on. The majority of Syrian Armenians are city residents, used to life in large cities such as Aleppo and Damascus.

Many people in Armenia welcomed this influx of refugees from Syria because it was expected that their reputation as entrepreneurs, and high skill sets would invigorate the slow-moving economy, while their social skills would stimulate the service sector. There are many success stories of Syrian-Armenians mainly in Yerevan. Despite their efforts and the generous support from the Armenian Government as well as national and international donors and NGOs, the Syrian-Armenians face acute problems in the country. The main issue is that Armenia is a very different environment and the economic situation is in particular worrying for newcomers. Indeed, even if they find a job, which corresponds to their respective qualification and working experience, they will never benefit from the same quality of life than in Syria. In Armenia, living costs are much higher and the average earning is lower than in Syria. Some entrepreneurial Syrian-Armenians have indeed met with frustration, facing the country’s small market size and the large amount of administrative and bureaucratic red tape. In addition, some new arrivals never intended to stay in Armenia permanently; they saw Armenia as a springboard to re-join relatives in Western Europe, USA or Canada.

The project “Economic Integration of Syrian Refugees in Armenia (EISRA)” implemented by GIZ tackles the challenges related to these Syrian-Armenian refugees. In order to support the economic integration of refugees in Armenia, the EISRA project supports the economic dialogue and coordination of relevant stakeholders, the integration in existing business networks as well as the access to and the adaptation of employment and qualification programmes.

A central institutionalised body for Syrian-Armenian economic issues does not exist. Such an institution could on one hand meet the needs and provide information and support for Syrian-Armenian entrepreneurs and those intending to become so, and on the other hand act as an advocate or speaker of Syrian-Armenian economic ideas and issues to the Armenian Government and support organisations.

In order to reach the target group and provide comprehensive support a functioning platform a concept was developed by PEM CONSULT with its Armenian partner Alvarium LLC that covered an assessment of the institutional capacities of existing organisations dealing with Syrian Armenians’ economic integration issues as well as the needs and possible options for establishment of a functioning platform for Syrian Armenian businesses and entrepreneurs to serve as the central hub for their business related issues.