Right from the beginning of the refugee crisis, VNG International and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized its strong urban context. Large camps in Jordan emerged rapidly, responding to the large influx of refugees. Acting as medium-sized towns, their challenges mirrored those of regular cities and a dire need for municipal expertise emerged. Communities in Lebanon saw their population double overnight, while both the funding and infrastructure needed to provide crucial services to both their own populations and refugees remained the same. This put tremendous pressure on services as well as the social fabric of these rapidly expanding communities. The impact was (and still is) overwhelming as host communities became the first line of response — in addition to the quickly mobilized international relief.
Focusing on host communities was the result of a second realization: local governments would become the main and only responders once relief assistance came to an end. To make assistance sustainable, their inclusion is essential right from the start, and should also be guided by longer-term needs. Working with local governments facilitates more accountable, efficient and effective support that is more sensitive to the needs of the disenfranchised, including women, children and the elderly. They are best positioned to offer direct assistance towards that longer-term horizon.
In response to these challenges, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached VNG International and its municipal partners to develop an intervention that supports both the short- and long-term assistance of the refugees present around Syria, strengthening sustainable and qualitative assistance, with a focus on host communities.