ABOUT THE BOOK
A Failed International Policy
Throughout 2014 and 2015 the headlines continued to report the expanding reach of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and into Turkey. Fighting between the extremist terrorist group, state forces and other rebel groups have left citizens fleeing in every direction: over a million Iraqi internally displaced persons, over 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Europe and over 7.5 million Syrians internally displaced inside Syria.
"2015 marked a new record:
60 million people displaced by violent conflict globally - the highest since World War II."
By 2015 the conflict in Syria had been ongoing for 4 years, since the 2011 Arab Spring sparked democracy protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A violent crackdown on demonstrators and arrests and torture of activists, spurred larger and larger protests across the country. The Syrian people were calling for democracy, government reforms, and an end to al-Assad’s regime. As demonstrations grew, government crackdowns intensified, leading to an armed rebellion and civil war. Barrel bombing and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as well as fighting by a number of rebel groups, led to massive displacement. The conflict dragged on, destruction inside Syria continued, and more and more territory came in under the control of a range of rebel groups including ISIS – peace and return home appeared further and further out of reach.
Hundreds of thousands of the over 3 million refugees have rationally responded by migrating to the gateways of Europe with the hopes of resettlement and starting a new life. Conditions inside Syria and in the refugee camps had become so dire that many risked working through human smugglers to attempt a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea on rafts and lifeboats.
With over 715,000 asylum seeking applications to the European Union in 2015, bodies of refugee families and children washing up on shores of Greece, and easy access for journalists to tell the story of their ordeal – Western media outlets began paying attention to the issue of forced displacement for the first time in decades. While the Syrian displacement case is unique – it is currently the largest in the world with 11 million people displaced & and it is receiving regular news coverage – it is not the only displacement crisis, there are 61 other major displacement crises. In fact, 2015 marked a new record: 60 million people displaced by violent conflict globally - the highest since World War II.
The current refugee regime fails them all. The UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, written to aid the refugees from World War II, only mandates the UNHCR to help those who have crossed international borders, not internally displaced persons (IDPs) trapped inside their own borders. Refugees and IDPs have suffered the same types of violence, require the same types of aid, and are currently being denied the same rights by the international response to displacement crises.
Host governments almost always prohibit the displaced from working or moving freely outside the camps set up to “temporarily” house them. The fundamental problem with this policy is that the displaced often remain displaced for years, or decades, trapped in limbo with no right to work and no right to move –a situation the US Committee on Refugees and Immigrants refers to as “warehousing.” Whether Somali refugees in Kenya or Tamil IDPs in Sri Lanka, the displaced are interned in camps, unable to provide for themselves or their families.
This policy of warehousing leads to countless bad outcomes from aid dependence, to drug addiction, to sexual exploitation, and militia recruitment, further fueling violence, devastating lives and leading to conflicts between the host communities and the displaced. There is a pattern to their suffering. In country after country, the displaced endure similar conditions and face similar barriers to escaping their destructive situation. The question is: Why has advocacy to end this situation failed so miserably?
Based on data on all 61 protracted displacement crises worldwide, fieldwork in 7 conflict zones in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, in-depth interviews with over 170 humanitarian aid workers, government officials and refugees, the book systematically details the barriers to effective advocacy at every level of governance and shows that failure is the norm. The humanitarian organizations aiding the displaced do not have the resources to expend on human rights advocacy and those few groups that do attempt to fight for refugee rights find that they have no leverage to do so effectively.
Unlike many academic monographs, it goes further and proposes an alternative way forward that capitalizes on advances social entrepreneurship, crowd-funding and micro-finance to improve the lives of those that have been forced to flee their homes to find safety.
A New Strategy
The book concludes with a proposal for a campaign targeted at concerned citizens of the Global North to mobilize new pools of investment for displaced entrepreneurs. The impressive amounts of giving during humanitarian disasters like the Tsunami in South East Asia and the earthquake in Haiti show that concerned global citizens are willing to act, if the “ask” is clear.
Mobilizing concerned global citizens to invest in the future of the displaced is more feasible and more promising. A thoughtful, well-executed campaign targeted at citizens of the wealthier countries of the world, could convey the plight of the world’s displaced as well as a clear and simple ask: donate $5-$25 to invest in the displaced. Aggregating these small individual contributions could create significantly sized micro-finance grant pools. Partnering with corporate sponsors to match crowd-funded pools could double the resources available.
"The displaced have fled war, persecution and violence to save themselves and their families. Their stories are harrowing and inspiring. They want to begin anew, rebuild their professions, and live lives of dignity. We have the opportunity to invest in their future, in the development of countries in crisis and ultimately in a more promising future for us all."
These micro-finance pools would then be deployed in two different ways depending on the context and the nature of the host government. Hostile host governments like the Syrian regime would be bi-passed. Partnerships with aid organizations on the ground would be used to distribute and support micro entrepreneurs in refugee and IDP camps.
Friendly host governments would result in advocacy and negotiation. A centralized campaign backbone organization would communicate that new pools of resources are available to displaced and host community populations but the release of those funds will be conditional on the host government allowing the displaced to work and move freely. Again, the funds will be deployed through partnerships with aid organizations already operating on the ground. Through this new campaign of investment, the displaced could begin rebuilding their professions and small business, empowering them to care for themselves and their families and moving toward a life of dignity and independence.
The international community is faced with two options. One, do nothing. Allow the status quo policy to continue. As millions remain displaced, and hundreds of thousands follow in their footsteps in the coming years, disillusionment will turn into despair. If the wealthy world stands idly by while the displaced are forced to live at the edge of existence, it will breed rebellion, extremism and endless cycles of violence. To echo Franklin D. Roosevelt: “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
There is another path. One in which the West stands up to support some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. The displaced have fled war, persecution and violence to save themselves and their families. Their stories are harrowing and inspiring. They want to begin anew, rebuild their professions, and live lives of dignity. We have the opportunity to invest in their future, in the development of countries in crisis and ultimately in a more promising future for us all.