The program, announced on Tuesday at Citi’s London headquarters, will impact 1,000 people aged 16-24 across three cities: Athens in Greece, Yola in Nigeria and the Jordanian capital Amman.
Alongside a $2 million grant from the Citi Foundation, a further $8 million has been committed across Europe, the Middle East and Africa to support programmes under the foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative.
The aim of the IRC-Citi partnership is to provide refugees and vulnerable young people with training for a range of employment and entrepreneurial skills, with grants being made available for some at the end of the two-year scheme to build their own businesses.
The motivation according to David Miliband — IRC’s president and CEO, and former British foreign secretary — is to rise to the “global challenge” of supporting refugees and the countries hosting them.
He emphasized that the top 10 refugee-hosting countries account for just 2.5 percent of global income.
“Stability for Jordan means stability for the rest of the Middle East; instability in Jordan reflects the opposite,” Miliband said.
“It’s very significant for the humanitarian sector to move from just keeping people alive to helping them thrive. Thriving for kids means education which is now a lifeline, and for adults it’s got to mean employment.
“We know that the greatest integrating force for any refugee is their ability to find work and the fastest way to reduce tensions between the refugee populations and the host population is for them to be contributors to the local economy, not just through humanitarian aid but through contribution.”
Jim Cowles, CEO of Citi in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, added that the $2 million program “wasn’t a grant or gift, but an investment” trying to address some of the key issues affecting countries such as Jordan.
“One of the biggest issues we think that there is is youth unemployment,” he said.
“With very high levels of youth unemployment, I think that tears at the social fabric of any society or community. We think that this program is very exciting in terms of trying to address some of those issues.”
According to the UN there are currently 65 million people displaced by war and persecution around the world, of which 25 million are refugees and 40 million are displaced people. But those statistics are set against a backdrop of anti-refugee sentiment across the globe.
Miliband said the challenge was to prove to people that the refugee crisis need not be never-ending, although admitted the prevalent negative views of refugees did not make that easy.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to counter the fear that the refugee (problem) is insoluble, we’ve got to show there are practical things people can do in their own communities. We’ve got (to) show that international humanitarian aid can be effective and show that (programs) like the one we’ve announced today really do make a difference,” he said, before urging Europe and the US to do more.
“We’re having this debate in the US at the moment because there is a retreat from global diplomatic leadership, but that makes it all the more important to make the argument.
“Western countries have a duty to stand with those countries who are bordering crises who are doing such an extraordinary job at the moment.”