Syrian refugees line up to receive winter supplies at the Zattari camp for Syrian refugees near the city of Mafraq, Jordan. Jamal Nasrallah/European Pressphoto Agency

Gerd Mueller, Germany's minister for economic cooperation, proposed a new scheme to cope with the burden of Syrian refugees. On a visit to Jordan, Mueller floated the idea of a program that would create half a million jobs for those without work in the region.

The plan involves the creation of some 500,000 short-term jobs, funded by 2 billion euros worth of donations and international contributions, according to a report in the Associated Press.

"It's called cash for work, to employ Syrian refugees, but also unemployed Jordanians ... in building schools, infrastructure," Mueller said as he visited refugee camps in Jordan. According to the AP, participants would be paid about 300 euros, or $325, a month.

German officials intend to formally push for this initiative at a now-annual Syrian aid conference that will be held next week in London. Millions of Syrian refugees remain in limbo in packed camps scattered across neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Both aid agencies and the governments of the host countries

As my colleague Liz Sly reported last year, significant funding shortfalls led to cuts in food and cash support to refugees and created conditions where many felt compelled to make the arduous and risky journey to Europe:

Now, the humanitarian effort is failing... ground down by dwindling interest, falling donations and spiraling needs. The United Nations has received less than half the amount it said was needed to care for the refugees over the past four years. Aid is being cut and programs are being suspended at the very moment when those who left Syria in haste, expecting they soon would go home, are running out of savings and wearing out the welcome they initially received.

“It is a tragedy without parallel in the recent past,” [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio] Guterres said in an interview, warning that millions could eventually end up without the help they need to stay alive.

The tortured international efforts to reach some sort of political solution to the Syrian conflict, which is now in its fifth blood-soaked year, continue with limited optimism. Planned talks in Geneva, scheduled for Friday, have yet to have a finalized guest list.

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Moreover, a growing backlash in the West toward letting in large numbers of Syrian refugees and other migrants has spurred politicians to think more concretely about what can be done to aid those displaced closer to their homes.

According to the AP report, Mueller insisted that it was "20 times more effective" to spend resources on refugees in the region than on accommodating them in Europe.

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