World Bank MENA Financing Facility

Remarks
Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
World Bank
Washington, DC
April 15, 2016


As prepared

Good afternoon. President Kim, ladies and gentleman, thank you very much for your leadership today.

As my distinguished colleagues have noted this afternoon, what brings us together today is nothing short of a supremely urgent global challenge and a profoundly important path forward.

Every day brings new heart-wrenching images of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes with their children in their arms and their only worldly possessions on their backs.

They are engineers and scholars, shopkeepers and farmers, mothers and fathers—driven farther and farther from Syria in a desperate hope shared by parents the world over: to find a better, safer future for their children.

Displaced by war, violence, and deprivation unleashed by the Assad regime, many of these refugees have found shelter in the generosity of their neighbors in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

For five years now, these nations of first asylum have opened their schools and their hospitals, shared their social services, and borne the financial burden of hosting millions of refugees.

Since the start of the crisis, the United States has provided more than $5.1 billion in humanitarian aid in Syria and the region, in addition to development assistance to Jordan and Lebanon. We have also unwritten $3.75 billion in sovereign loan guarantees to Jordan.

President Obama and the American people are proud that this makes us the largest single donor in the world—carrying forward our nation’s legacy of humanitarian and development leadership in times of great tragedy and crisis.

But as all of you know, the level of need for Syrian refugees continues to vastly outstrip the resources available. There are not enough teachers or schools or classrooms in Lebanon and Jordan and those that exist are deteriorating rapidly under the strain of double or even triple shifts.

Compounding this challenge, adults very often do not have legal access to employment—a reflection of how hard it is for local leaders to provide jobs for refugees when many of their own people don’t have them.

Without access to work, without access to education, families press onward into Europe—putting their lives at risk on the fierce seas or in the sealed trucks of smugglers.

Against this crisis and overwhelming universe of need, our country partners are doing what they can. The question is what more can we do to support them.

That is why President Obama will convene a Leader’s Summit on refugees on the margins of this year’s UN General Assembly to encourage commitments from governments around the world to broaden the donor base and increase contributions to humanitarian appeals by 30 percent; double the number of refugees worldwide who are offered the safety of a permanent home and the chance for a fresh start through legal resettlement and other forms of admissions; and increase the number of refugee children in school and refugee adults working by one million each.

The MENA Concessional Financing Facility represents a historic leap forward in these efforts and in our ability to ensure that we are providing our assistance in a way that not only supports refugees but the generous communities that host them. I am delighted that a conversation we started a year ago on this issue at the State Department is coming to fruition.

As you know, despite the truly extraordinary budgetary constraints they face, middle-income countries like Jordan and Lebanon cannot borrow at concessional rates—low interest loans reserved for the poorest countries.

Even as they provide a global public good in hosting vast numbers of refugees, they cannot access the financing they need to meet the tremendous pressures of this charge.

Today, we are determined to try to change that.

That is why I am pleased to announce that the United States intends to provide $25 million towards the Concessional Financing Facility subject to the requirements of U.S. law.

By developing new types of affordable financing for these middle-income countries, we are enabling Jordan and Lebanon to invest in critically needed infrastructure upgrades in health, education, and clean water, as well as expand opportunities for legal employment and significantly expand access to education.

We are very happy to hear that some of the first projects being discussed for funding will help get more children back into school where they belong and integrate refugees into the labor force.

We are also looking forward on working with the World Bank and our other partners on the proposal to create a new global crisis response facility to ensure that countries around the world can weather protracted crises.

Finally, let me say thank you to President Kim and his team for their innovative leadership to establish a pioneering response to this historic crisis. Across the world, in their own journeys, refugees are traveling along the very same paths that many of our own parents and grandparents took to find sanctuary from war and a future for their children. Now that responsibility, that courage, that leadership to care for others rests with all of us.

Thank you very much.