Help Us, By Helping Them
By Stephen Bandy
After the week in Rome I find myself thinking, what now? What does all this mean and where do I fit in? Of course, I can talk to others, share my experience, master my elevator story but that will never be enough. A refugee we spoke with in Rome, that we were put in contact with through Centro Astalli, explained that most refugees “want to go home” and that he “has one foot in Italy and the other in Kenya.” I know that we should do all that we can do to make everyone feel welcome in a country that is foreign to them, but we should also be focusing our efforts on making sure they never had to leave their home in the first place. This can only be done if countries proactively invest in the major countries that the refugees are coming from, and going to first. Rather than reactively investing in increased border protection and country specific social programs.
It might seem that it is too late for this type of investment, the crisis is here, and we can not live in the past, but that approach will only lead to the continual increase in the number of refugees each year. The UNHCR estimates that in 2008 there were 10.5 million refugees but that number has risen to 16.1 million by 2015. This shows that the current structure is not working and continuing down this path should not be an option. The investments should go directly to the countries that are producing the most refugees.
According to Jesuit Refugee Services, 53% of refugees come from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria making them the top three countries that investments should be focused. Of course, there are political issues in these three countries that cannot be overlooked, investing is much easier said than done. If no deal to increase infrastructure, education, and job opportunity can be reached in the original countries the investments should then be focused on the countries that are currently hosting the most refugees. These countries include Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Ethiopia. Again, political issues in the host countries exist as well, but with the correct emphasis being put on collaboration and relationship building I am sure that a deal can be made.
We live in a society that can be described as “us vs them” that believes the “us” is better off without “them." Unfortunately, I do not think that is mindset is going away any time soon, but to have a real impact on the refugee crisis this idea does not need to be changed, just the solution associated with it. If politicians shifted focus away from internal protection to external investment the increasing number of refugees will slow down and the relationship between the countries will improve. Although I personally believe we should all become more accepting it will be easier to persuade the people to assist others if they see a positive outcome for themselves. This external, proactive investment, will lead to a sustainable future in which all countries will benefit.