Written by Shivani Singh, Edited by Jessica van Thiel; the two women co-founded PATHFINDER
The Refugee Crisis: Millions of Wasted Resources
The current refugee and migrant crisis is one of the world’s greatest and most urgent problems. Why? Because not only is it terribly sad in terms of the profound suffering of millions of human beings –blameless men, women and children – but also, it is a huge waste of our current and future resources.
“An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.”[i] Millions of them are unable to work even though they are qualified and skilled. Most can contribute, today or in the future, but they will remain unable to for far too long, “nearly 50 million children are refugees or migrants, says UNICEF.”[ii] These children are growing up without stability, education and proper nutrition. In fact, an entire generation will grow up ill-equipped for their futures and with a host of issues from their traumatic childhoods.
This is of course, a very complex global crisis with many perspectives and interests involved. It is highly unlikely that there is one or few tidy solutions. The root problems that lend to the crisis are themselves vast. That said, as this crisis has grown over the last few years, our leaders have offered precious few ideas. We see more dodging and deflecting than we see proposals for lasting results. Others - industry experts, academics and journalists - have begun key discussions around the issue, hoping to better understand and address it. But the fact remains, years on, there are millions of people on the move and few reliable operations in play.
Perhaps, it is with the involvement of ordinary citizens that we can put pressure on the world’s leaders to do something substantial. Indeed, many have done just that. A few small business owners in Canada, Germany and other European countries have employed refugees and sponsored programs to educate children.[iii] In the US, industry giants like Starbucks and Chobani have pledged their support. Other organizations have begun working in camps around the world, teaching children, caring for the sick and helping entrepreneurs set up businesses. But these are examples of private engagement. Public and government resources have largely eluded these discussions and efforts. Without the support of policies, efforts will continue to remain limited.
There is much we can do, and much yet to learn. Imagine for a moment, that we had access to unlimited resources. Let’s consider some ideas.
The first step to finding lasting solutions is having the right conversations. These conversations must include the people they target. It’s crucial to visit camps and learn from those who live there. How many policy-makers are visiting camps and collecting data on the realities refugees face? Shouldn’t we know more about what works and what doesn’t? The same would apply for asylum seekers in government systems. How many of these systems are built to accept feedback and improve current solutions? For instance, what are the challenges to finding local employment and how can we overcome them? We reckon that there is a sizeable gap between requirements for the millions of migrants and what our countries offer them. Where there are now promising ideas and successful prototypes, we should champion them and help reproduce them widely. The best solutions, the ones most expected to last, would be born of conversations including all stakeholders, i.e. refugees/migrants, government and industry experts on the ground.
It is equally crucial to survey and manage the state of children’s health and education. There should be an international alliance committed to the wellbeing of refugee and migrant children. Children must have adequate nutrition, healthcare, education and safety. Consider that children most effectively join new societies with the promise to become contributing, self-sustaining citizens. Conversely, uneducated, unemployed youth lead to unstable societies.[iv] Investing in children’s development is key to future successes.
While we talk to the right people and build the right solutions, there is another thing we must simultaneously do: educate. We need to change the prevailing narrative of “us” vs. “them” in host countries. One way to change the conversation is to highlight the potential of migrants. People need to know that their governments have their best interests in mind. If governments do a better job of educating their populations on decisions regarding refugees and migrants, they’d be more likely to understand. Ultimately, many of those who come into host countries are future citizens. That’s how they should be seen, not as invaders. Many of these people add resources to otherwise aging or small populations. Their being driven out of their own homes, out of desperation, does not make them less able contributors.
The truth is that we shouldn’t - indeed needn’t - look at millions of people as burdens. There are some legitimate cultural concerns to overcome, and stifling peoples’ worries has proven as disruptive as riling them up on ignorance and fear. Honest discussions need to happen and societies must feel like they have a say in the way forward. Treating the millions on the run from war and poverty as a nuisance is senseless and ultimately, unproductive. Our leaders have the responsibility to correct this narrative.
What everyone needs to understand and accept is that the problem is real. This crisis will not end on its own. Even with political efforts that would discourage mass migrations in home countries, the likelihood is that in the immediate future, people will continue to move looking for better lives. It is therefore, in everyone’s best interest to invest our collective energies to solving the issue. Countries lobbing responsibilities (like Hungary and Poland) is not acceptable. And while governments argue amongst themselves they overlook opportunities while crises like human trafficking continue to thrive.
It’s time for us all, public institutions and private efforts, to get to work.