In light of the current global refugee crisis, a US businessman, Jason Buzi, has proposed one possible solution – to create a new country for refugees to live in, a ‘refugee nation’, whether an island or a large tract of open land. This idea has been receiving some media attention, with coverage in The Washington Post and The Independent.
Yesterday, the RSC Director, Professor Alexander Betts, spoke about this idea on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight, following an interview with Mr Buzi himself. He said: “I think the starting point of the refugee nation idea is broadly accurate. We face a global refugee crisis, with more people displaced than at any time since the Second World War. States are showing declining willingness to provide territory to refugees, and we need innovative and creative solutions. But I’m unconvinced by the proposed solution. While there are historical precedents of new nations being created, from Liberia to Israel for similar purposes, the idea of annexing a new territory has really significant conceptual and practical challenges.”
He pointed out that refugees are not stateless people, already having citizenship with their country of origin; their preference is frequently to return home when the situation changes; the vast majority of refugees (95%) are currently living in nations neighbouring their home country, and may not wish to be relocated elsewhere in the world, from where returning may be more problematic.
He also highlighted that the proposed ‘refugee nation’ idea could be potentially dangerous: "The world's track record of artificial nation-building is really not strong. It creates challenges of what happens to an indigenous population and, as we know, when you combine, artificially, different populations from different countries of origin, it can - ironically - lead to violence, which can in turn lead to displacement."
He added: “I really commend Jason Buzi’s moral outrage with the lack of solutions to a global problem… but…there are better solutions available. For me, the most obvious and important… is to increase protection for refugees in their region of origin through, for instance, targeting development assistance to support host states and their communities. We need to support countries that bear the overwhelming responsibility for refugees, countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Kenya.”
He finished by underlining that over 50% of refugees have been in exile for over 5 years, in protracted refugee situations, with an average length of stay of 17 years: “That’s unsustainable, it costs a huge amount in humanitarian assistance… and we have to find solutions, and Jason Buzi identifies that very correctly as a problem. The way to solve that is to recognize that those people have skills, talents, aspirations… we should find ways of helping them temporarily integrate in the host countries to support the economies of those host countries, to be a benefit rather than perceived as a burden, but we have to do that in a way that integrates them wherever they may be rather than this probably utopian and potentially really dangerous idea of buying up islands or tracts of land, annexing them and seeing that as a solution. It isn’t.”