Between Prospects and Precarity

An evaluation of Dutch assistance to refugee reception in the Syria region (2016-2021)

Surisch meisje schrijft een gedicht voor haar huis in Jordanië
Image: ©UNHCR Jordan / Diego Ibarra Sanchez

Results – Evaluation of Dutch assistance to refugee reception in the Syria region

As a result of the civil war in Syria, millions of people have fled the country. The vast majority of them live in Syria’s neighbouring countries. This has put severe pressure on infrastructure, public service delivery and social relations in the host countries. The Netherlands has provided support in the areas of protection, education and employment to offer prospects to refugees and host communities. IOB evaluated Dutch support for the reception of refugees in the Syria region for the period 2016-2021.


In response to the European refugee and asylum crisis in 2015, the Dutch government allocated 260 million euros to support the reception of refugees in the Syria region. Since then, reception in the region has become an important pillar of the Dutch migration policy, and the financial resources for this policy have been structurally expanded. The political arguments in the Netherlands for (financial) solidarity with host countries have varied. In addition to improving the prospects for refugees and host communities, preventing onward migration to third countries, including Europe and the Netherlands, was an important motive as well.

Map with refugee numbers in Syria region

In line with international policy developments, the Netherlands adopted a development-oriented approach that went beyond providing traditional humanitarian types of assistance. Support was aimed at the (temporary) integration of refugees into the societies and economies of host countries to enable them to become self-reliant.

For this evaluation, IOB looked specifically at Dutch support for the reception of refugees in the region in Lebanon and Jordan (and partly in Iraq) for the period 2016-2021.

Main research question

What has been the Dutch contribution to improving the prospects of refugees from Syria and their host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and how can this contribution be improved?

The study looked primarily at the state of affairs in Jordan and Lebanon. When possible and relevant, data from Iraq was also incorporated.

Collage van Syrische vluchtelingen aan het werk en op school in gastlanden
Image: ©ILO/G.Megevandl; ILO/A.H.Al Nasier; Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID


The main conclusions are briefly presented below. First, the main conclusion is summarised. Subsequently, the other conclusions are discussed. More details can be found in the evaluation report.

Primary conclusion
Dutch support to Lebanon and Jordan has achieved positive short-term results for refugees and host communities. Examples include access to education, protection of women and children, and the ability to meet urgent daily needs through cash assistance to families. However, Dutch support has not effectively contributed to improving the prospects and self-reliance of refugees and host communities. For many, prospects have deteriorated, particularly in Lebanon. This was partly due to negative contextual trends beyond the influence of the Netherlands, such as political crises and economic decline, aggravated by Covid-19, and partly because a critical assumption underlying the policy – i.e. that host countries would be willing to adopt an inclusive approach towards refugees – did not hold in Lebanon and only partially in Jordan.

  • Dutch support for protection, education and employment may have influenced refugees’ aspirations and capabilities to migrate to European countries, including the Netherlands. However, the evidence for a causal relationship is weak. The decision to migrate is determined by many factors that are difficult to predict. For most refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, onward migration remains impossible due to a lack of financial resources and networks.
  • The chances of many projects contributing to the policy objectives were reduced, i.e. because of unrealistic goals or overlooked factors that were crucial for achieving (sustainable) results, such as differences in religious, cultural and social norms. The Dutch programmes were flexible in the sense that they allowed programming to adapt to important contextual changes.
  • The intention to integrate the specific needs of women and girls into projects was not sufficiently successful.
  • The Netherlands supported both refugees and host communities; however, the public perception remained that foreign aid benefited refugees more than the local population.
  • Policy coherence was limited in various ways. The priorities of international donors, including the Netherlands, were not always aligned with those of the host countries. Donor coordination focused more on sharing information and establishing joint positions, rather than avoiding duplication and promoting synergies. In addition, the promotion of a coherent package of Dutch support was limited by the large number of Dutch instruments.
  • a) The shift from a portfolio of individual projects towards a partnership with large international agencies (‘Prospects’) has facilitated contract management. Such a partnership required more staff than expected, and investments in this were made at a later stage. Cooperation between the ministry and the embassies has improved in recent years.
    b) The Prospects partnership brings together key humanitarian and development partners. This has stimulated the exchange of information between them, but it remains a challenge to actually set up projects together.
    c) The ambition to give local organisations more control over programming proved difficult, especially when working with large international organisations. These usually did not pass on to local organisations the favourable conditions they enjoyed, such as multi-annual and flexible financing.
collage van Syrische vluchtelingen aan het werk in gastlanden en van een vrouw die financiële ondersteuning ontvangt
Image: ©ILO/A.H.Al Nasier; UNHCR/Sara Hoibak; ILO/Nadia Bseiso


Five policy recommendations are presented below. More detail regarding these recommendations can be found in the report.