The reason refugees flee their homelands is now more to do with civil wars than wars between nationsby Alessandro Casella / May 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Refuge by Paul Collier and Alexander Betts (Allen Lane, £20)
According to the authors, Oxford academics Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, the reason refugees flee their homelands is now more to do with civil wars than wars between nations. State fragility and mass violence form a toxic brew. In order to address this new world of war more effectively, so the authors argue, governments need to change their attitude and their policies. For example, housing refugees in large camps—such as the Dadaab camps in northern Kenya, home to 300,000 Somalis—is often inimical to their welfare. Why not let them work so they can support themselves and contribute to the economy? Such projects have been shown to be successful in Uganda and Jordan.
The authors, though, are too kind to the UN High Commission for Refugees, which should be at the forefront of such change but is actually one of its main obstacles. The organisation is fixated on the provisions of a refugee convention dating from the Cold War, which is out of touch with current reality. Significantly, of the six UNHCR staff members they identify for praise, four have never actually served in the field.
Their claim that the UNHCR is systematically underfunded must be set off against the level of waste within the organisation as well as the existence of other major sources of funding—such as bilateral contributions or the Islamic charities—that operate outside the UN system.
Nonetheless Refuge significantly raises the level of the current debate on asylum and migration. The book is full of ambitious proposals. To their credit the authors don’t attempt to bridge the gap between what should be done and what realistically can be achieved. That is a task for government. What they have valuably done is to better identify what the problem is.