New approach to refugees Tony Karumba/Getty Images

A Smarter Approach to Refugees

Meeting refugees’ basic needs – food, shelter, medical care, and safety – is essential. But so is providing the knowledge and tools displaced people need to support themselves and their children in the long term, whether in a new country or the one they fled, should they ever return.

BRUSSELS – In recent years, few issues have generated as much public debate as the plight of refugees. With an unprecedented number of people uprooted by political instability, conflict, or persecution and forced to seek protection beyond their countries’ borders, the inadequacy of international responses has been laid bare.

One central problem with current approaches is that they fail to ensure sustainable futures for refugees. Meeting refugees’ basic needs – food, shelter, medical care, and safety – is essential. But so is providing the knowledge, tools, and opportunities displaced people need to support themselves and their children in countries where they seek asylum, in countries to which they are resettled, or when they return home.

Such a strategy will require new methods, partnerships, and financing mechanisms. It will not be easy, but there are already heartening examples. Over the last year, countries in the Horn of Africa, home to almost four million refugees, and other parts of East Africa have all been pursuing bold efforts.

Last September, at the United Nations Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in New York, the leaders of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda committed to providing more comprehensive support for their respective refugee populations, as well as for host communities. These countries have also moved to apply the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the principles of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

By providing better access to jobs, education, health care, and land, and moving toward integrated service-delivery for refugees and their hosts, these countries are helping refugees become more self-reliant and lead more dignified lives. And they are reaping the benefits of improved security and more economically productive residents.

African countries are taking these efforts further, and the European Union stands ready to support them, including through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In March, the members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc – Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda – convened the first-ever high-level summit focused on developing a regional approach to delivering durable solutions for Somali refugees.

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At that summit, which received strong support from the EU and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), IGAD heads of state and government expanded on their earlier commitments and laid out a comprehensive plan of action, which recognized the need for action in four key areas:

·         Stabilizing Somalia, to enable the voluntary and sustainable return of refugees;

·         Protecting refugees within host countries, including by supporting their integration and self-reliance;

·         Strengthening sub-regional cooperation;

·         Increasing international burden-sharing.

Last month, IGAD foreign ministers convened in Brussels, together with the EU and the UNHCR, to assess progress, identify challenges, and set priorities for the coming months. This systematic, comprehensive, and forward-looking approach promises to go a long way toward helping not just the refugees themselves, but also their host communities and, when the time is right, their home countries. Donors also stand to benefit, as these efforts reduce the need for costly and indefinite emergency responses.

The EU has helped to pioneer this promising approach. With our 2016 policy framework Lives in Dignity, we have adjusted our policies to include more development assistance at the outset of a humanitarian crisis. In 2016 alone, we allocated €130 million ($153 million) to support long-term solutions for refugees in East Africa.

In Somalia, the EU is leading efforts to promote stability, in order to facilitate the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees. To that end, last May, we made available an additional €200 million ($236 million), to be used to respond to security challenges, create economic opportunities, and enhance democratic governance.

In Kenya, the EU, the government, and the UNHCR are spearheading a development project for an open settlement near Kalobeyei Township in Turkana, the country’s poorest region. Bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia, Turkana has long been host to many refugees. With new waves of South Sudanese refugees entering Kalobeyei, the township is introducing a model that promotes cooperation and resource-sharing between refugees and their host communities, while providing both groups with better access to education, health care, and other services.

At the Refugee Solidarity Summit in Kampala, Uganda, the EU pledged €85 million ($100 million) to support a progressive refugee policy, which offers refugees opportunities to nurture their skills and integrate into local communities. That money, together with the pledges of EU member states, represents more than 80% of the total amount committed to support Uganda’s refugee programs. Next month, we aim to buttress these efforts by scaling up our support for the implementation of the CRRF.

But, as powerful as the EU’s support has been, it is not enough. The rest of the international community, including donors, international financial institutions, and the private sector, must marshal its resources, whether financial, political, diplomatic, or technical, to help roll out forward-looking refugee policies across affected countries.

Such an effort must include broad support for investment in the necessary social and economic infrastructure, as well as promotion of entrepreneurship among refugees. It also demands sustained political leadership focused on ending conflicts and building inclusive societies in refugees’ home countries. That leadership must come not only from the affected countries, but also from neighbors, such as the broader Red Sea region, and from the international community.

With the world’s support, refugees can be empowered to develop their skills not just for their own benefit, but for that of their host countries, too. And, in cases where they can return to their homes, they will be prepared to start anew.

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