Book Review: How Europe is squandering opportunities to boost its economy with refugee workers

Book Review:  How Europe is squandering opportunities to boost its economy with refugee workers
Updated 05 May 2017

Book Review: How Europe is squandering opportunities to boost its economy with refugee workers

Book Review:  How Europe is squandering opportunities to boost its economy with refugee workers

The world refugee crisis has displaced a record 65 million people from their homes, the most since the end of World War II. The majority of these uprooted people remain within their countries, but over 20 million have no other alternative but to flee due to fear of persecution.
Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System” by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier gives a sobering account of how the refugee crisis has affected Europe.
In 2015, the world experienced the gravity of the problem when refugees and migrants seeking better economic opportunities moved simultaneously from the poorer regions of the world to the richest. During that same year, more than 1 million asylum-seekers came to Europe. European governments are still struggling to find adequate solutions and until now, their response has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. Despite a series of high-level conferences organized by the UN, a consensus has still not been reached on a strategy for the future of the global refugee system. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) is both failing to provide protection to refugees and to find long-term solutions to their plight, the two main reasons for which it was founded.
Since its creation in 1950, the UNHCR has been, in fact, adapting to change. It was originally set up as a temporary organization with no funding and a staff of a few hundred people. Sixty-seven years later it has offices all over the world and an annual budget exceeding $5 billion. The scope of its mission is not only legal but also operational: engaged in the protection of refugees, stateless persons, internally displaced persons and victims of natural disasters. In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004, the UN secretary-general asked UNHCR to provide assistance in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. UNHCR responded that this was an “unprecedented” and exceptional move, outside its mandate. But soon the exception became the rule.
One of the main ideas of this book is that the events thats led to a refugee crisis in Europe are due to the adoption of policies that created avoidable problems. The Shengen treaty led to the creation of the Schengen Area comprising 26 European states in which internal borders have been abolished. As a result, any citizen can move across the borders of member countries. The authors highlight “the extraordinary disconnection between the will to implement the outcome and the will to make it workable. This vast area was created without either an agreement on common external immigration policies or the creation of a common external border police.”
The entire Schengen Area is an open space. With no police on the border between Italy and the neighboring Schengen countries such as France and Austria, the migrants can move freely from one country to another. But that does not entitle them to file for asylum, work or even gain the nationality. To survive migrants can only expect to find a below-minimum-wage-job or resort to criminality. The least regulated market in Europe is Britain. Unlike the rest of Europe, the United Kingdom has no national identity card and it is not part of Schengen. This explains the presence of a huge refugee camp near Calais, which has now been dismantled.
The Syrian refugee crisis was grossly mishandled. The displaced Syrian population fled mainly to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. International agencies failed to coordinate their efforts. The UNHCR reacted by providing food and shelter in camps but 85 percent of the refugees avoided the camps in Jordan; in Turkey, up to 90 percent of the refugees wanted the right to work. The World Bank classified these three countries as “upper-middle income” and as such they were not entitled to receive help.
The most important fact regarding refugees is that the majority remain in their region of origin or in neighboring countries. “There is a mismatch in terms of attention and resources. We focus on the 10 percent who reach the developed world but neglect the nearly 90 percent who stay in developing regions of the world,” wrote Betts and Collier.
The majority of the world’s refugees remain in neighboring countries. In other words, the countries with the least capacity end up hosting refugees and bear the greatest responsibility.
Lebanon is currently hosting over 1 million Syrian refugees who represent 25 percent of its entire population. Kenya and Uganda host together 1 million refugees, which is equivalent to the total number of asylum-seekers to enter all 28 of the EU’s member states. Pakistan, until Turkey took over, was the world’s biggest refugee-hosting country because of its neighbor, Afghanistan.
The Dadaab camp in Kenya was established in 1992 to host 90,000 refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war. It is now 26 years old and shelters a population of nearly half a million refugees. The Za’atari camp in Jordan hosts 83,000 inhabitants and although it has a more vibrant market, superior basic services, it follows the same model.
“Those people arriving in Europe or North America are often extremely vulnerable and their lives matter, but so too do the lives of the nearly 90 percent left behind. Today, the world spends approximately $75 billion a year on the 10 percent of refugees who move to developed regions and only $5 billion a year on the 90 percent who remain in developing regions,” wrote the authors.
Refugees can contribute to the GDP of European countries, and that is where development funds are needed. Refugees have a fundamental right to expect a pathway to autonomy. And the best way to help them is to privilege their regions of origin because it makes it easier to go home.
When Manbij, a town of 100,000 people, in northern Syria, managed to get rid of Daesh, people immediately flocked in from Turkey back into Syria.
The Syrian refugee crisis, which has involved European countries, offers a chance to rethink a strategy and should first take into consideration the refugees’ skills, talents and aspirations then conceive of an approach that could enable a refugee to work and live an autonomous and dignified life. The idea is that a refugee is not just a humanitarian case but a development issue.
Uganda hosts over 500,000 refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea; it is the third-largest host country in Africa. Unlike Kenya and Ethiopia, its neighbors, Uganda has taken a radically different approach to refugees. It has given refugees the right to work and a significant degree of freedom of movement. It allows refugees to start businesses and seek employment. It also gives refugees plots of land to cultivate for both subsistence and commercial agriculture. Uganda is a unique success story that shows what refugees can achieve when they are given the proper means.
Despite more constraints, one can find a similar atmosphere of innovation and inventiveness among the Syrian refugee community in Jordan. In the Za’atari refugee camp, there is no work and all the economic activity is highly regulated. However, creativity is everywhere. The bustling main street is known as “Shams Elysees,” reminding us of the famous Champs Elysees in Paris, the most beautiful avenue in the world.
All refugee families are given a caravan to live in provided by the generosity of one of the members of the Gulf states. Many of these caravans are transformed into shops on the camp’s Shams Elysees or they are made into furniture. The creativity and the entrepreneurship so alive in the Za’atari refugee camp make us wonder why refugees are not allowed to work. Betts and Collier believe that refugees represent an opportunity to transition to manufacturing. The core of their idea is to create economic zones that would employ refugees. Setting up production in a haven country can be done when and if CEOs are determined to succeed. In Mexico, an American firm succeeded in setting up a production line in six weeks.
This book offers an in-depth coverage of the refugee crisis. Betts and Collier underline the necessity of creating safe havens in the countries that neighbor conflict and crisis because this is where most of the refugees are so they can easily go back and rebuild their countries. The authors also criticize the way camps are managed. The current humanitarian assistance model leads nowhere, it is out of touch with the contemporary world and refugees do not want to stay the authors argue. The authors suggest the creation of a new model that will provide autonomy, employment and dignity to refugees. There is also much hope that Antonio Guterres, the current UN secretary- general, who was former high commissioner for refugees, is in the best position to implement the necessary changes to the refugee system. Ultimately, the biggest funders: The United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and the European states are the ones who have the capacity to ask for meaningful change.
“Only in moments of crisis can changes to the international system be made, and so the scale of the challenge should not be discouraging but galvanizing. We hand over to you.”
Yes, indeed, each one of us should reflect on the obligations and rights that stem from our common humanity. Isn’t it our duty to support the basic human dignity of those whose lives and human rights are severely threatened?

[email protected]