The world is currently gripped in the single greatest refugee and displaced persons crisis since the end of the Second World War. Conflicts are raging in places like Syria, Yemen, and Sudan, while the lingering effects of instability, famine, and gender-based violence continue to impact countless areas around the world. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that over 65 million people are currently considered refugees or internally-displaced persons. To put that in perspective, this increase averaged over 28,000 new refugees every day in 2016. As we've seen, this unprecedented influx has caused both economic and political issues for the nations that host these individuals. In this upheaval, the debate seems to be centered on accepting refugees into places like the United States and Europe, or leaving them in their host countries. This week, we'll examine this debate and explore some of the benefits of providing direct, in-country support to refugee populations.
The case for accepting refugees into stable host countries is a noble one. After all, places like the United States were founded on the idea of providing a safe haven from persecution. Yet, there are substantial difficulties that prevent large numbers of refugees from being accepted into places like North America and Europe. First, there is the economic and logistical problem of arranging travel, housing, language/cultural education, and employment assistance. Though many refugees often have post-graduate education, many others have few marketable skills in what is often an already competitive job market. Next, security concerns factor greatly into the refugee equation. Though fear over terrorists infiltrating the ranks of asylum seekers is often overblown, host nations still have a strong interest in knowing exactly who is attempting to enter the country. The populist backlash against immigration has dramatically reduced the capacity of some nations to continue accepting asylum-seekers in recent years.
However, this doesn't mean that nations shouldn't try to alleviate the situation. There are substantial benefits that nations can enjoy when they accept refugees, and it can often be the best opportunity for some to start a new life. But the reality is that the vast number of current refugees is simply too great for any one nation to solve on its own. So more needs to be done to provide basic support to refugees who are either displaced internally or seeking shelter in nearby host countries. As it turns out, there are many benefits to this approach as well.
Leaving an ancestral home is often one of the last things a person wants to do when faced with regional instability and violence. More often than not, they flee because there is no other option and hope to return as soon as it is safe again. Direct in-country support can often serve as a useful stop-gap in preventing someone from leaving their home county for good. The decision to leave a home country is a critical turning point in the life of a refugee, since very few ever end up returning back home. In 2015 alone, only 200,000 refugees managed to achieve repatriation back to their home countries. This in turn impacts host nations substantially. In places like Jordan, nearly one third of the population still has refugee status or is a direct descendant of a refugee. By providing the basics of health, shelter, sanitation, and education, we can help stem the flow of people to nations that are often already struggling to support their existing populations.
But there is more to providing in-country refugee support than basic shelter and medical care. Destabilizing situations almost always have a detrimental impact on the ability of a country to provide critical social services to its people. Schools are destroyed, economies are ravaged, and the social fabric of a society is often left in tatters. In short, the suffering doesn't end when the immediate crisis is over. This is why long-term planning with educational programs and individual entrepreneurship opportunities is a critical part of the healing process. By remaining in their home countries (or in a nearby host nation), they can contribute to the local economy and help serve as a moderating social force against recurring political unrest.
Unfortunately, financial support for refugee organizations is well below current projected needs. The UNHCR currently has a funding gap over almost $3.5 billion, while many other organizations are reporting similar funding shortfalls. In addition to monetary contributions, there are many other ways to get involved with organizations that support in-country refugee assistance operations. This can be done through volunteer opportunities and assisting in awareness campaigns. Lastly, the recent trend of mirco-loans (small, personal transactions to support individual businesses) has shown some promise in ensuring a basic standard of living for people in under-developed nations around the world.
In all, the severity of the refugee issue simply cannot be ignored. Many would argue that nations ought to focus only on their internal matters, leaving others to fend for themselves. But this worldview fails to understand the complex interactions of an interconnected global community. Instability and suffering does not stay localized to one small corner of a forgotten part of the world. Today's global economy means that the no country can be fully isolated from the negative impacts of a struggling neighbor. Refugee support is not charity, it is an investment. And when we invest in our fellow human, we are investing in ourselves.