A disturbing fault line is at the heart of global politics today. Our world is more interconnected than ever before, and yet, the mechanisms and means for managing globalisation seem less adequate to the challenges. The result is predictable: A backlash against global engagement born of frustration, fatigue and fear.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the global refugee crisis. Sixty-five million people around the world were displaced by conflict, persecution and human rights violations in 2015 — an increase of 5.8 million over 2014.
Less than 1 per cent of refugees returned to their home countries in 2014 and according to the United Nations, the average duration of displacement has risen to 17 years. In 2015, the United Nations appealed for a record $20 billion (Dh73.56 billion) in order to address global humanitarian needs. Despite tremendous generosity, these appeals faced an unprecedented 45 per cent shortfall. The desperation is rising among refugees and in the countries to which they are fleeing. This includes places such as Turkey and Kenya, which are among the largest refugee-hosting countries, as well as European states such as Germany and Sweden, which have welcomed a large number of refugees in the last couple of years.
We know from previous crises — for example, the rapid depletion of the ozone layer in the 1980s or the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s — that these events produce two reactions. Countries either decide that the problem is too big for them to make a difference, and shy away from commitments and obligations, or the international system comes together in recognition that no meaningful solution will work unless it is truly collective. We are at such a moment in the handling of the refugee crisis.
There is pressure to close borders and repatriate those fleeing — a result that would only empower people-smugglers. There are politicians who equate refugees with terrorists — stoking fear and turning communities against each other. This vicious cycle urgently needs to be reversed.
An opportunity presented itself at two global summits that took place earlier this week. The first was the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, held on Monday, which was organised by the president of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson. Its purpose was to bolster the front-line states hosting the vast majority of refugees, to galvanise greater global responsibility-sharing and to create a new set of international principles on refugees and migration.
Although a great deal of commendable effort went into preparing for this meeting, the blueprint for the summit released by the UN last month suggested that it was likely to yield milquetoast restatements of already agreed-upon principles rather than meaningful changes in how nations share responsibility for refugee support. This would be a disappointment. With the world facing record numbers of refugees, we cannot simply produce general statements of intent. We need actionable commitments to which states can be held accountable.
A separate summit was hosted by United States President Barack Obama on Tuesday to deliver the objectives. By demanding that countries “pay to play”, Obama’s initiative aimed at catalysing substantial commitments on refugee resettlement, as well as creating employment and education opportunities for them in the host countries (which are generally low to middle-income, such as Lebanon or Pakistan). Obama’s summit offered an opportunity for the US to lead by example and increase humanitarian commitments globally, but the international community must address three areas in the follow-up that must occur.
First, a sea change in support to refugee-hosting countries is imperative. Some 85 per cent of refugee-producing countries are outside the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) club of rich countries. This year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a “new model of how governments, local communities, the private sector and aid organisations work together for people in crisis.” Countries hosting refugees need more (and more efficient) resources to provide safe and dignified accommodation for refugees.
This means investing in evidence of what works in crisis settings. Specifically, the UN should develop shared outcomes for people affected by conflict similar to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted last year. This would keep the focus on measurable global commitments to the displaced in areas such as income and access to education; ensure accountability in meeting these commitments and make sure that programmes are not only cost-efficient, but cost-effective as well, so that precious resources are used to best effect.
Second, countries need to harness the independence of the displaced. Refugees kept in camps feel like a permanent underclass trapped in dependency. But if countries get them out to work, they can contribute to the economy. The World Bank estimates that for each 1 per cent increase in the population of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Lebanese service exports increase by 1.5 per cent. To realise the full benefit of hosting refugees, they must be granted the opportunity to work. The private sector and actors such as the World Bank have a leading role to play in generating jobs.
Third, resettlement — the transfer of refugees from an asylum-providing country to another state — must be expanded. Resettling 10 per cent of the global refugee population — 1.6 million refugees — over the next three years strikes the appropriate balance between a target that is achievable and one that will truly make a difference for hosting states carrying a disproportionate responsibility. This is a mere half a million per year, collectively — only a tiny fraction of the legal migration that rich countries facilitate each year on non-humanitarian grounds. The US has historically been a leader in resettlement and has proved that the process works, with robust security screening (taking 18-24 months on average) and integration programming that quickly moves refugees from aid dependency to economic contribution. Washington should raise the number of US refugee admissions to 140,000 next year. Resettlement is not only the right thing to do; it is a smart investment.
At the International Rescue Committee last year, 88 per cent of refugees we resettled enrolled in an employment programme and were employed. And in 2009-2011, refugee men above the age of 16 were more likely to be working than their US-born counterparts. Resettlement not only provides a pathway to hope for the world’s most vulnerable people, but it also shares the load with those countries that already host large numbers of refugees.
It takes collective government leadership, business innovation and popular mobilisation to solve the world’s problems. The UN summits this month are a chance to engage across all three of these pillars to find solutions to this crisis and to begin developing a better humanitarian system that can handle problems of this magnitude when they inevitably erupt. The price of failure goes far beyond the agony of the displaced — nothing less than the future of the international order is at stake.
— Washington Post
David Miliband is the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee and a former foreign secretary of Britain. Madeleine Albright is a former US secretary of state.