The Refugee Crisis: Short and Long Term Solutions

by José Ramos-Horta

Today there are 60 million refugees and internally displaced peoples in search of safety, shelter, a home and a future across the globe.

We all know that the root causes of this crisis are extreme poverty and fratricidal, sectarian and religious wars. It is easy to say that we must address the root causes of this 21st Century catastrophe. No one disagrees with this grand statement. But the mounting crisis overwhelming the international community demands urgent remedies.

Europeans are facing an extraordinary challenge that inevitably elicits humanitarian, moral and ethical soul-searching, but also poses real political and security questions. I can only sympathize with them as they wrestle with this complex challenge.

Most European political leaders behave in a rational and compassionate manner seeking urgent solutions; a few others have inflamed the political climate in Europe brazenly and irresponsibly, instigating anti-immigration and anti-refugee rejection and violence. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone up in my esteem as she is committing Germany to welcoming a larger number of refugees and is pressing fellow EU countries to proportionally increase their intake.

Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon are overwhelmed by the refugee crisis emanating from Iraq, Syria, Libya. Countries in Asia – Iran, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand – have been hosts to millions of refugees for the past decades. Too many refugees have been locked in crowded in “refugee processing centers” in these regions for far too long, their lives wasted, as the UN Refugee Agency has been unable to find a permanent home for them.

What are the immediate, short term remedies; and what are the medium and long term answers to these challenges?

Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and Europe should accommodate many more, starting with families with small and teen age children.

Others that have been quiet on this issue should take a proportional percentage of refugees, namely South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, all with vast uninhabited lands that would greatly benefit from the inflow of these refugees.

Latin American countries, like the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were born out of the world’s largest movement of people in past generations, with millions fleeing poverty and wars in Europe to build new lives across the world. Today they should open their arms to fellow human beings, women and children, fleeing the catastrophes of the Middle East and Africa.

Most of these countries, with the possible exception of Chile, face severe economic problems with serious social and political challenges. They are not as well off as the Europeans. However, the Latin Americans I’ve known for decades are people with great heart, always very sympathetic to the poor and unwanted or those fleeing tyrannies. I believe they would open their homes to the refugees.

These countries would need serious economic and financial assistance to enable them to cope with a large influx of refugees. It is here where the the European Union, World Bank and regional inter-State financial Institutions, commercial banks and business would have to be mobilized and invest enough money to assist the host countries in absorbing the impact of the refugees, and creating new economic opportunities for the resettled refugees.

Carlos Slim, the richest man on Earth originates after all from a small town in Lebanon. Throughout Latin America one finds enormously successful individuals who fled poverty in Lebanon and Syria, some generations earlier. Today they are in positions of wealth and political power. Surely they would be among the first to endorse this idea.

Experience has shown how refugees have never been a burden or a threat to the host countries. In fact refugees have shown extraordinary resilience and creativity in inventing sustainable livelihoods for themselves, in activities ranging from modest food stalls, eating places to farming and livestock activities, fish farming and endless other economic activities.