This week the BBC World Service programme ‘The Inquiry’ focuses on the European refugee and migrant crisis, in particular on the European response so far and ‘what else could Europe try?’. It includes four expert opinions, from Elizabeth Collett (Director of Migration Policy Institute Europe), Professor Jane McAdam (Scientia Professor of Law at the University of New South Wales), Professor Courtland Robinson (Centre for Refugee and Disaster Response, JHSPH), and the RSC Director, Professor Alexander Betts. The first three look at Europe’s response so far, the Australian ‘solution’ of off-shore processing centres, and the approaches used for the Indochinese 'boat people' after the Vietnam war. Alexander Betts then turns to suggest that a new approach now needs to be taken, involving a change of perspective.
Betts comments that most of the world’s refugees are not in Europe, but in regions of origin – countries neighbouring refugee-producing countries – and this is where we need to find solutions. He states, “We need to be creative about how we support host countries in regions of origin… simply writing cheques to support countries like Lebanon and Jordan isn’t enough. One way we can do that is to change the paradigm of how we look at refugees – not just as a humanitarian issue… but also a development issue.” Here he suggests opening up under-developed spaces (e.g. an existing special economic zone near Za’atari camp in Jordan) so as to allow refugees to work alongside the host country citizens, using investment by companies. In the case of Syrian refugees, this could create both an opportunity to incubate the post-conflict economy of Syria, and an opportunity for host countries like Jordan to improve their development.
He also emphasizes that such development approaches have worked best in the past when host communities also benefit. He cites a precedent for this approach in Mexico in the 1990s, where self-reliance opportunities and local integration for Guatemalan refugees were introduced in the Yucatan peninsula.
Regarding Europe, Betts states that “it’s very important to recognize that Europe doesn’t have a choice about whether it engages with the global refugee crisis; it’s a question of how it engages.”