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The surprisingly simple economic case for giving refugees cash, not stuff

Andrew Harper has a staff of 600, a budget of more than $280 million,and an office littered with color-coded maps marked by hand-drawn arrows. Violet is for Isis, orange for Al-nusra Front, and green for the government of Syria. The arrows are for people: Since 2011, nearly700,000 have poured over the border from Syria to Jordan, and there are an estimated 70,000 more on the border, desperate to get in.

Harper, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ top representative in Jordan, has been in refugee crises from Turkey to Sumatra, but none as large and complicated as this. With his budget straining and Jordanians increasingly worried about the refugee camp in Zaatri that had become their fourth-largest city, Harper put into practice his simplest, cheapest option: Move refugees out of camps, give cash allowances to as many as possible, and then essentially let them take care of themselves.

It may not sound like a revolution—but it could be the beginning of one. Full Story


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