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Opinion | A New Deal for Refugees - The New York Times 25.08.

18, 02)24

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A New Deal for Refugees


Global policies that aim to resettle and integrate displaced populations into
local societies are providing a way forward.

By Tina Rosenberg
Ms. Rosenberg is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about
responses to social problems.

Aug. 21, 2018

For many years now, groups that work with refugees have fought to put an end to
the refugee camp. It’s finally starting to happen.

Camps are a reasonable solution to temporary dislocation. But refugee crises can
go on for decades. Millions of refugees have lived in their country of shelter for
more than 30 years. Two-thirds of humanitarian assistance — intended for
emergencies — is spent on crises that are more than eight years old.

Camps are stagnant places. Refugees have access to water and medical care and
are fed and educated, but are largely idle. “You keep people for 20 years in camps
— don’t expect the next generation to be problem-free,” said Xavier Devictor, who
advises the World Bank on refugee issues. “Keeping people in those conditions is
not a good idea.” It’s also hard to imagine a better breeding ground for terrorists.

“As long as the system is ‘we feed you,’ it’s always going to be too expensive for
the international community to pay for,” Mr. Devictor said. It’s gotten more and
more difficult for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to raise that

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Opinion | A New Deal for Refugees - The New York Times 25.08.18, 02)24

money; in many crises, the refugee agency can barely keep people from starving.
It’s even harder now as nations turn against foreigners — even as the number of
people fleeing war and violence has reached a record high.

At the end of last year, nearly 70 million people were either internally displaced in
their own countries, or had crossed a border and become a refugee. That is the
largest number of displaced in history — yes, more than at the end of World War
II. The vast majority flee to neighboring countries — which can be just as badly
off.

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A section of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border, in 2015.
Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Last year, the United States accepted about 30,000 refugees.

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Uganda, which is a global model for how it treats refugees, has one-seventh of
America’s population and a tiny fraction of the wealth. Yet it took in 1,800 refugees
per day between mid-2016 and mid-2017 from South Sudan alone. And that’s one of
four neighbors whose people take refuge in Uganda.

Bangladesh, already the world’s most crowded major nation, has accepted more
than a million Rohingya fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. “If we can feed 160
million people, then (feeding) another 500,00-700,000 …. We can do it. We can
share our food,” Shiekh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister, said last year.

Lebanon is host to approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, in addition to a half-


million Palestinians, some of whom have been there for generations. One in three
residents of Lebanon is a refugee.

The refugee burden falls heavily on a few, poor countries, some of them at risk of
destabilization, which can in turn produce more refugees. The rest of the world
has been unwilling to share that burden.

But something happened that could lead to real change: Beginning in 2015,
hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees crossed the Mediterranean in small
boats and life rafts into Europe.

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Migrants who had made their way to Europe walked on top of a dike in 2015 as they were escorted by
riot police officers to a registration camp outside Dobova, Slovenia.
Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

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Suddenly, wealthy European countries got interested in fixing a broken system:


making it more financially viable, more dignified for refugees, and more palatable
for host governments and communities.

In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a


resolution stating that all countries shared the responsibility of protecting
refugees and supporting host countries. It also laid out a plan to move refugees
out of camps into normal lives in their host nations.

Donor countries agreed they would take more refugees and provide more long-
term development aid to host countries: schools, hospitals, roads and job-creation
measures that can help both refugees and the communities they settle in. “It
looked at refugee crises as development opportunities, rather than a humanitarian
risk to be managed,” said Marcus Skinner, a policy adviser at the International
Rescue Committee.

The General Assembly will vote on the specifics next month (whatever they come
up with won’t be binding). The Trump administration pulled out of the United
Nations' Global Compact on Migration, but so far it has not opposed the refugee
agreement.

There’s a reason refugee camps exist: Host governments like them. Liberating
refugees is a hard sell. In camps, refugees are the United Nations’ problem. Out of
camps, refugees are the local governments’ problem. And they don’t want to do
anything to make refugees comfortable or welcome.

Bangladesh’s emergency response for the Rohingya has been staggeringly


generous. But “emergency” is the key word. The government has resisted
granting Rohingya schooling, work permits or free movement. It is telling
Rohingya, in effect, “Don’t get any ideas about sticking around.”

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Opinion | A New Deal for Refugees - The New York Times 25.08.18, 02)24

This attitude won’t deter the Rohingya from coming, and it won’t send them home
more quickly. People flee across the closest border — often on foot — that allows
them to keep their families alive. And they’ll stay until home becomes safe again.
“It’s the simple practicality of finding the easiest way to refuge,” said Victor Odero,
regional advocacy coordinator for East Africa and the Horn of Africa at the
International Rescue Committee. “Any question of policies is a secondary matter.”

So far, efforts to integrate refugees have had mixed success. The first experiment
was a deal for Jordan, which was hosting 650,000 Syrian refugees, virtually none
of whom were allowed to work. Jordan agreed to give them work permits. In
exchange, it got grants, loans and trade concessions normally available only to the
poorest countries.

However, though the refugees have work permits, Jordan has put only a moderate
number of them into jobs.

Any agreement should include the views of refugees from the start — the Jordan
Compact failed to do this. Aid should be conditioned upon the right things. The
deal should have measured refugee jobs, instead of work permits. Analysts also
said the benefits should have been targeted more precisely, to reach the areas with
most refugees.

To spread this kind of agreement to other nations, the World Bank established a $2
billion fund in July 2017. The money is available to very poor countries that host
many refugees, such as Uganda and Bangladesh. In return, they must take steps
to integrate refugees into society. The money will come as grants and zero interest
loans with a 10-year grace period. Middle-income countries like Lebanon and
Colombia would also be eligible for loans at favorable rates under a different fund.

Over the last 50 years, only one developing country has granted refugees full
rights. In Uganda, refugees can live normally. Instead of camps there are
settlements, where refugees stay voluntarily because they get a plot of land.

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Refugees can work, live anywhere, send their children to school and use the local
health services. The only thing they can’t do is become Ugandan citizens.

Given the global hostility to refugees, it is remarkable that Ugandans still approve
of these policies. “There have been flashes of social tension or violence between
refugees and their hosts, mostly because of a scarcity of resources,” Mr. Odero
said. “But they have not become widespread or protracted.”

This is the model the United Nations wants the world to adopt. But it is imperiled
even in Uganda — because it requires money that isn’t there.

The new residents are mainly staying near the South Sudan border in Uganda’s
north — one of the least developed parts of the country. Hospitals, schools, wells
and roads were crumbling or nonexistent before, and now they must serve a
million more people.

Joël Boutroue, the head of the United Nations refugee agency in Uganda, said
current humanitarian funding covered a quarter of what the crisis required. “At
the moment, not even half of refugees go to primary school,” he said. “There are
around 100 children per classroom.”

Refugees are going without food, medical care and water. The plots of land they
get have grown smaller and smaller.

Uganda is doing everything right — except for a corruption scandal. It could really
take advantage of the new plan to develop the refugee zone. That would not only
help refugees, it would help their host communities. And it would alleviate
growing opposition to rights for refugees. “The Ugandan government is under
pressure from politicians who see the government giving favored treatment to
refugees,” Mr. Boutroue said. “If we want to change the perception of refugees
from recipients of aid to economic assets, we have to showcase that refugees bring
development.”

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The World Bank has so far approved two projects — one for water and sanitation
and one for city services such as roads and trash collection. But they haven’t
gotten started yet.

Mr. Devictor said that tackling long-term development issues was much slower
than providing emergency aid. “The reality is that it will be confusing and
confused for a little while,” he said. Water, for example, is trucked in to Uganda’s
refugee settlements, as part of humanitarian aid. “That’s a huge cost,” he said.
“But if we think this crisis is going to last for six more months, it makes sense. If
it’s going to last longer, we should think about upgrading the water system.”

Most refugee crises are not surprises, Mr. Devictor said. “If you look at a map, you
can predict five or six crises that are going to produce refugees over the next few
years.” It’s often the same places, over and over. That means developmental help
could come in advance, minimizing the burden on the host. “Do we have to wait
until people cross the border to realize we’re going to have an emergency?” he
said.

Well, we might. If politicians won’t respond to a crisis, it’s hard to imagine them
deciding to plan ahead to avert one. Political commitment, or lack of it, always
rules. The world’s new approach to refugees was born out of Europe’s panic about
the Syrians on their doorstep. But no European politician is panicking about South
Sudanese or Rohingya refugees — or most crises. They’re too far away. The
danger is that the new approach will fall victim to the same political neglect that
has crippled the old one.

Tina Rosenberg won a Pulitzer Prize for her book "The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After
Communism." She is a former editorial writer for The Times and the author, most recently, of "Join the
Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World" and the World War II spy story e-book “D for
Deception.”

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