Sawhney and Stratton: Coping with a refugee crisis in the age of globalization

The world faces a refugee crisis that can only be solved with international cooperation. News coverage has focused heavily on the 1,800 migrants who have died at sea in hopes of reaching European shores from the Middle East and North Africa. Too often, news sources cite general conflict in the region rather than breaking down the various reasons refugees have for leaving their specific homeland, usually not even making clear who these refugees are. A bulk of migrants arriving by sea come from Libya due to the conditions of the current civil war. However, the nation has also become a transit point for sub-Saharan Africans who previously sought work in Libya and for Syrian refugees attempting to get to Europe by way of North Africa. North Africans frequently seek citizenship in France because of former colonial ties, while the bulk of immigrants landing in Italy are from farther south in Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria.

Although the mass migration across the Mediterranean places a large burden on Europe, the necessity for regional and international responses is felt on Northwestern’s campus through the Center for Forced Migration Studies at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies. Founding director Galya Ruffer is on leave for the academic year but will teach her political science class on the various worldwide refugee crises this fall.

The sheer number of refugees in the Middle East means a two-pronged approach is critical to managing this crisis, and the CFMS engages interdisciplinary experts to conceptualize and enact new solutions. Turkey hosts approximately 800,000 refugees, while neighbors Lebanon and Jordan have over 1.1 million and 700,000, respectively. Furthermore, 3 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries because of the Islamic State and there remain 5 million Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel. This inundation of refugees requires a two-part strategy where regional and international frameworks are set in place, namely by the United Nations and European Union.

Stratton: The long-term issues of a European-led solution

After months of criticism that the EU has not done enough to address the influx of migrants aiming for Europe’s southern shores, authorities are moving to spread the burden among member states. How to stop the flow of refugees has been extensively debated in the EU, with a strong anti-immigrant sentiment throughout Europe. The European Commission has called for “mandatory national quotas” to relocate the migrants to other European countries. This would significantly ease the burden on Italy, Greece and Malta, the main arrival points for migrants moving across the Mediterranean.

The proposed solution is the “European Agenda on Migration,” which sets quotas and common goals for the 28-nation European Union. The current system for dealing with migrants is failing. Human trafficking fuels the influx, and more than 1,800 migrants have died at sea. The new agenda for distribution will be decided by an algorithm of sorts. It will be based on EU countries’ size, population, unemployment, GDP and their number of existing asylum applications. If a country is doing particularly well, it will be expected to take more migrants. For example, Germany and Sweden are doing well economically and will therefore have a higher quota.

This plan may work temporarily and will certainly ease the burden on coastal states. Quotas are a good short-term idea because they allow for refugees to be more evenly distributed throughout Europe. This eases the economic and political burden on some countries while potentially offering more money and resources to these migrants.

However, quotas will likely fail in the long run because the EU is essentially waiting for the next disaster. It is a temporary solution designed to get Europe from one problem until the next one occurs. In the past 10 years, almost 20,000 people have died trying to reach Europe from Africa by sea. Every time a crisis arises, governments across the world promise to do something to avoid another crisis. But the tragedies continue.

Bernd Leber, a migrant researcher and EU consultant, explains “there will always be more people who want to come to Europe than these quotas allow.” Essentially, irregular migration patterns and periodic influxes are not going to be avoided by enacting quotas on members of the EU. Open borders are not feasible, and Europe cannot help but say no to most refugees because the continent simply does not have the means to keep all migrants and refugees in the long term. Asylum applications are rising, and with the increase in migrants, an anti-migrant sentiment is growing throughout Europe.

Agreement among the EU nations is crucial on this issue, but quotas will not solve the long-term problem. The problem lies in the countries these migrants come from. They are fleeing problems in their homelands inadequately addressed by their own governments or internationally. These are problems that cannot and will not be solved by increasing quotas — it is far more complex. The “migrant problem” is a European problem, but it cannot be solved by the EU alone.

Sawhney: The successes and failures of regional brotherhood

The handling of the refugee crisis within the Middle East has had both positive and negative results. Although Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have shown an extreme generosity in physically accepting refugees, poor integration into their host countries’ societies has created deteriorating living conditions for Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians. The inability of most refugees to work has caused massive unemployment and hunger. Lebanon, a country with 257 refugees per 1,000 citizens faces food production and public health shortages due to the influx of population.

NU’s Ruffer says refugees need legal status to earn a living and contribute to their host economies. Turkey has put a national asylum model in the works, and she believes other countries can replicate the model to protect Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees face a unique conflict in that Lebanese citizenship requires an immense amount of documentation and can only be passed down from father to child. This has left 36,000 newborn Syrians in Lebanon stateless.

To maintain stability, nations must give refugees avenues to work and receive an education. Unfortunately, countries in the region are more receptive to creating migrant worker programs such as those in Saudi Arabia that only grant temporary stay. This has led to hundreds of thousands of African and Asian workers being expelled from the kingdom. With the end of the Syrian and Iraqi conflict far from sight, a short-term program would only add to greater displacement and instability in the region.

Palestinian refugees in Jordan have fared slightly better over the decades, with many gaining access to education and public health insurance. Between 1949 and 1954, Palestinians were granted Jordanian citizenship, but those arriving later have had limited rights, with those coming from the Gaza strip most likely to live in impoverished camps. Syrian refugees were also initially welcomed as “brothers in need,” but the system became overextended, signaled by fees to receive health services and mandatory refugee cards becoming harder to obtain. Iraqi refugees have arguably had it the worst, as they are viewed as a security threat rather than a population suffering from a humanitarian crisis.

Within the region, the wealthy Gulf States — namely the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain — need to step up and help their poorer neighbors that carry most of the weight. Gulf States have not taken in refugees but promised to contribute monetarily. An emergency conference hosted by the emir of Kuwait promised $1.5 billion to aid Syrian refugees, but a full $650 million has never been provided. Luckily, UN databases have kept a careful account of how much each country owes and are attempting to pressure the Gulf States into compliance.

If these donations were made in full, a combination of short-term relief from these funds combined with a regional framework to patriate refugees could bring hope to the millions of men, women and children condemned to a stateless existence.

Asha Sawhney is a Weinberg freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. Abigail Stratton is a Weinberg freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].