MUNICH – Important progress was made at the donors’ conference for Syrian refugees convened in London on February 4. But much more remains to be done. The international community is still vastly underestimating what is needed to support refugees, both inside and outside the borders of the European Union. To deal with the refugee crisis, while putting the EU’s largely unused AAA borrowing capacity to better use, requires a paradigm shift.
Rather than scraping together insufficient funds year after year, it is time to engage in “surge funding.” Spending a large amount of money up front would be far more effective than spending the same amount over several years. Frontloading the spending would allow us to address the most dangerous consequences of the crisis – including anti-immigrant sentiment in receiving countries and despondency and marginalization among refugees – more effectively. Making large initial investments would help tip the economic, political, and social dynamics away from xenophobia and disaffection, and toward constructive outcomes that benefit refugees and the recipient countries alike.
Surge funding has been used often to finance immunization campaigns. The International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm), which borrows against future government contributions to immunization programs, has raised billions of dollars over the past several years to ensure that vaccination campaigns are successful as soon as possible. In the long run, this is more effective than spending the same amount of money in yearly installments. IFFIm provides a convincing precedent for the current crisis.
A sudden large influx of refugees can cause panic that affects the general population, the authorities, and, most destructively, the refugees themselves. The panic breeds a false sense that refugees are a burden and a danger, resulting in expensive and counter-productive measures, like erecting fences and walls and concentrating refugees into camps, which in turn breeds frustration and desperation among the refugees. If the global community could fund large-scale, concentrated programs to address the problem, the general public and the refugees would be reassured.