“Most refugees live in the de­vel­op­ing world. And yet, too of­ten, de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions that could pro­vide refugees with a hand up face in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing and stiff reg­u­la­tions that pre­vent them from ad­dress­ing refugees’ needs”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

This is un­ac­cept­able, but it is not in­evitable. In 1945, the world re­sponded to the dead­li­est con­flict in hu­man his­tory by es­tab­lish­ing the United Na­tions. To­day, as heads of UN refugee and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies, we call for the world to re­spond to this mon­u­men­tal up­heaval by giv­ing peo­ple the tools they need to re­build their lives. We be­lieve that the path for­ward be­gins with the 2030 Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, which the UN, af­firm­ing a pledge to “leave no one be­hind” in the fight against poverty and in­equal­ity, adopted unan­i­mously last Septem­ber.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s cur­rent ap­proach to dis­place­ment re­lies mainly on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, which pro­vides rapid, life­sav­ing re­lief while the search for a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion is un­der­way. But so­lu­tions are prov­ing more elu­sive than ever. Just 1% of refugees were able to re­turn home in 2014. The vast ma­jor­ity of those dis­placed spend not days or months in ex­ile, but years or decades, even en­tire life­times. They risk be­ing left be­hind.

Con­sider Somaya, a third-gen­er­a­tion refugee in Kenya. Decades ago, her grand­mother fled to the Ha­gadera refugee camp to es­cape the bru­tal con­flict in So­ma­lia. Her mother was born there, and so was she. Nei­ther of them has set foot out­side the five-square-mile (13 square kilo­me­ters) camp. They still live out of her grand­mother’s suit­cases, wait­ing for a chance to move on.

Like Somaya, most refugees live in the de­vel­op­ing world. And yet, too of­ten, de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions that could pro­vide refugees with a hand up face in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing and stiff reg­u­la­tions that pre­vent them from ad­dress­ing refugees’ needs.

Long-term dis­place­ment in­flicts pro­found bur­dens on peo­ple like Somaya. Refugees too of­ten face lim­its on their abil­ity to work and move freely, mak­ing it all but im­pos­si­ble to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies or to con­trib­ute to their host com­mu­ni­ties. They live in limbo, with no choice but to rely on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. Or they are obliged to seek a liv­ing in the in­for­mal econ­omy, where they risk fall­ing vic­tim to ar­rest, sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, child labour, or other abuses.

Con­sider an­other ex­am­ple: Anas, a 13-year-old Syr­ian refugee in Le­banon. His fam­ily can­not sur­vive with­out the $5 he earns ev­ery day. So, in­stead of go­ing to school, he sorts lumps of coal for sale as fuel. Refugees like Anas strug­gle to ex­er­cise pre­cisely those rights – to education, health care, free­dom of move­ment, and ac­cess to work, land, and hous­ing – that are es­sen­tial to es­cap­ing poverty.

Fix­ing this will re­quire political and eco­nomic changes that al­low the de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity to pro­vide more sup­port. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween de­vel­op­ment and dis­place­ment is clear, and we need to be­gin to con­sider th­ese chal­lenges as ar­eas of joint re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Large-scale dis­place­ment strains pub­lic re­sources, even in middle-in­come coun­tries; with­out suf­fi­cient out­side help, it can undo years of progress. Un­til the world gives more and bet­ter sup­port to host coun­tries and the refugees liv­ing there, we can ex­pect to pay ever-larger sums for hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grammes that never end.

But there is an­other side to the coin. When dis­placed peo­ple are al­lowed to de­velop their skills and pur­sue their as­pi­ra­tions, they cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth. This is why de­vel­op­ment agen­cies must have more flex­i­bil­ity to ad­dress new cy­cles of poverty and fragility – wher­ever they ap­pear – be­fore they spiral out of con­trol.

The time has come to dis­card the clichéd im­age of refugees as pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of aid, sit­ting idly with out­stretched hands. If any­thing, that im­age re­flects cir­cum­stances that have been im­posed upon refugees and re­in­forced by the world’s in­com­plete re­sponse. Refugees are en­trepreneurs. They are artists. They are teach­ers, en­gi­neers, and work­ers of all types. They are a rich source of hu­man cap­i­tal that we are fail­ing to cul­ti­vate.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can no longer af­ford to ig­nore so much po­ten­tial or to sit by while the most vul­ner­a­ble are pushed to the mar­gins of so­ci­ety. As news head­lines call at­ten­tion to the hu­man costs of th­ese tragedies, we must re­mem­ber that we have the choice to re­spond with more than just shock.

We can re­ject the eco­nomic ex­clu­sion of those who live among us but were born some­where else. We can re­dou­ble our ef­forts to seek political so­lu­tions to con­flict and per­se­cu­tion. We can em­power hu­man­i­tar­ian and de­vel­op­ment part­ners to work to­gether from the mo­ment a cri­sis erupts. In short, we can honor our pledge to “leave no one be­hind.”

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