Refuge: Transforming A Broken Refugee System by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier

The Blurb On The Back:

Europe is facing its greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, yet the institutions responding to it remain virtually unchanged from those created in the post-war era.  As neighbouring countries continue to bear the brunt of the Syrian catastrophe, European governments have enacted a series of ill-considered and damaging gestures.  With a deepening crisis and a xenophobic backlash around the world, it is time for a new vision of refuge.

Going beyond the scenes of desperation that have become all too familiar in the past few years renowned development experts Alexander Betters and Paul Collier break new ground by showing how international policymakers can deliver humane, sustainable results that are better for refugees and host countries.  Drawing upon years of research in the field and original solutions that have already been successfully trialled, they outline a compelling vision that can empower refugees to help themselves, contribute to their host countries and even rebuild their countries of origin.

Refuge reveals how, despite the media focus on the minority of refugees trying to making it to Europe’s shores, 90 per cent of the world’s refugees live in developing countries, mostly in camps or in urban poverty.  In light of this, their eye-opening book situates Europe’s refugee crisis in a global framework, offering a concrete diagnosis for a system that has, for too long, been institutionally broken.

An urgent and essential work, Refuge shows how we can act for both moral and practical purposes in order to deal with the defining challenge of our time.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Alexander Betts is a Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs at Oxford University and Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Blavatnik School of Government and in this moving, compassionate and intelligent yet accessible book they analyse the decisions and structural problems that led to the flood of Syrian and other refugees trying to reach Europe from 2011 onwards (including inadequacies within the existing refugee legal framework) and propose an alternative innovative and yet pragmatic approach, putting it through the prism of the original crisis to highlight how things may have been different in a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

The book is divided into three equally fascinating sections – all of which are designed to be read by ordinary people with an interest in the subject matter rather than policy wonks with existing expertise:

Part I – Why Is There A Crisis? goes right back to the beginning, looking at the establishment of the original refugee and institutions structures as answers to the post World War II displacement crisis and subsequent refugee crisis caused by the Cold War.  I found this to be a fascinating account that goes into the historical and political pressures at play and how this fed into the current situation.  Added to this is a good analysis of the events leading up to the Syrian crisis with the authors noting that it’s not limited to Syrians fleeing the conflict zone and pointing out the other pressures caused by the Rohingya crisis in Burma and how those countries doing the heavy lifting on refugee hosting are those that are nearest the affected territories.  I was particularly fascinated by how they break down the response of the EU governments and the pressures put on it, culminating in Angela Merkel unilaterally rescinding the Dublin Regulation, exacerbating the numbers seeking to reach Europe.

Part II – The Rethink sets out the authors’ proposals for an alternative way of handling refugees, which goes back to the very basics by thinking about what we want from a refugee system and what it’s intended to achieve.  I think there’s a lot in here that’s useful and it also served to make me rethink how I thought about refugees – especially when it comes to funding and what the response should be and their suggestion about giving refugees work rights and combining refugee funding with investment in the countries that often end up as the refugees’ homes so as to provide opportunities for both the refugees and the existing population, allowing them to mingle and interact, which breaks down barriers.  I was also fascinated by the idea of refugee camps being permitted to set up their own markets and businesses and the authors’ descriptions of where this had happened was really interesting.  The authors’ reference a pilot project in Jordan that encouraged manufacturers to set up in Jordan to create jobs for some refugees and local works and I would really like to hear more of this in future editions to see how it goes and what the authors’ learn from it.

Part III – History, The Remake then re-examines the refugee crisis in the light of the authors’ suggestions for improvement and I think they make a persuasive case for how the situation could be improved.

The authors’ admit that there are numerous hurdles to changing the current refugee system, including political inertia and the rise of right-wing parties in key countries that take a more intransigent view towards dealing with humanitarian issues.  I really hope though that this book encourages a dialogue for reform among the international community and I think that this book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the subject matter or who was moved by the media coverage of the crisis.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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