US real estate millionaire Jason Buzi launched his idea for a “Refugee Nation” to the media two weeks ago in The Washington Post. This idea has been generating some debate, with Professor Robin Cohen of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford, responding to an earlier interview of Professor Alexander Betts on this issue for BBC Radio 4. Today, Professor Betts furthers the debate with an article for the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network.
First he details what he believes to be right with the idea: the identification of the problem (the biggest displacement crisis since World War II); the need for innovative and creative solutions; and recognition of refugee communities’ capacity to be economically and politically self-sufficient.
He then explains what is wrong with it, aside from the practical challenges of “identifying an appropriate territory and building a new multinational political community from scratch”. The idea, he says “risks conflating refugees and stateless persons” and “is premised upon exclusion rather than inclusion”. Further, it raises concerns around coercion and consent: “It seems likely that in order to group people onto an artificially created territory one would either have to make it utopian to be attractive or risk encouraging other states to coerce refugees to go there.”
However, he believes the proposal should not be totally dismissed, but “should offer a source of inspiration for ways in which we can collectively reimagine and reinvigorate asylum”. For example, through models such as:
- trusteeship: “Cohen is right to suggest that internationally managed territories might offer creative ways to liberate refugee governance from restrictive host states”;
- zonal development: which “might offer an opportunity for refugees to have greater autonomy while contributing to the host economy’s national development strategy”; and
- charter cities: “Paul Romer’s idea of charter cities offers a way of creating designed urban areas in which a particular community’s needs could be met”.