The dramatic increase in the global number of refugees in recent years has revealed the limitations of existing international institutions. The author argues that developed countries should commit more resources to support less developed countries, whose proximity to areas of civil strife means they bear a disproportionate burden of supporting refugees.
The author discusses the problem of the growing refugee population around the world and specifically addresses the migrant crisis in Europe that has resulted from the civil war in Syria. He argues that the recent spate of crises shows that Europe is not insulated from the troubles faced by the wider international community.
He examines the evolution of the current international refugee support regime that started with the 1951 Refugee Convention and explains why the current regime is not working effectively enough in the face of a significantly increased global refugee population.
How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?
Many variables can affect economic growth rates, demographic changes, and analysts’ forecasts of growth expectations. Enlarged refugee flows constitute one component of these forecasts that is often difficult to predict. The 1951 Refugee Convention took into account Europeans displaced before 1951, including millions displaced during World War II and in the post-war genocides. Then, in 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees removed the geographical and temporal limitations of refugee support. Since then, regional and international laws have built on the convention’s foundations. Currently, many parts of the world offer protection to people fleeing civil strife, but the existing international regime for supporting refugees seems to be fraying.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 20 million refugees are currently stranded outside their home countries. A record 45% of the world’s refugees are now in “protracted situations” that have lasted five years or more.
Syria’s recent civil war serves as a stark illustration of the refugee problem. The war has displaced an estimated 13 million Syrians. Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million, now hosts about 1.5 million Syrians, and Jordan hosts about 1.3 million Syrians. Roughly 1 million Syrian refugees are in Europe, and the remaining Syrian refugees are dispersed across Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.
Syria’s neighbors have borne much of the refugee burden. For example, 25% of Jordan’s public spending now goes toward supporting Syrian refugees within its borders. The author argues that it is unfair for a country’s proximity to areas of conflict to define its responsibility to refugees.
The Syrian refugee crisis also has triggered a migrant crisis in Europe. Developed and less developed countries have significant differences in their respective treatment of refugees. In most EU countries, refugees can work before they obtain refugee status and are promised housing, freedom of movement, and protection from official harassment. But in less developed countries, refugees, who frequently reside in poorly managed camps, often have a poor quality of life. Much of the support they receive is provided by humanitarian organizations.
Because of this disparity in quality of life, many Syrian refugees decided to make the journey across treacherous seas to reach Europe. Of those who made this perilous choice, 1 million succeeded. Their arrival on Europe’s shores overwhelmed Europe’s existing asylum and border rules.
The author argues that Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis proves that refugee problems in distant countries can affect developed countries; thus, it is in the interest of the international community—especially developed nations—to address the gaps in the existing regime. He suggests, as an example, that developed countries provide financial support for the countries close to conflict areas that bear the brunt of the refugee crisis. He also proposes that developed countries increase their commitment to resettling more refugees.
The article seems targeted at politicians, policymakers, and other actors dealing with or interested in international migration flows and refugee issues.
The author succinctly yet forcefully provides a context for the unprecedented scale of the global refugee crisis and explains the challenges the current international refugee support regime faces. This article is an introductory essay to a special report on immigration and refugees in the Economist and thus focuses on providing the right context for the issue, which it does very well. The author, however, does not suggest detailed solutions, such as stronger multinational institutions, for the identified challenges. Interested readers would be well advised to read the full special report that explores the issues raised in this article in more detail.