Economic development requires people to move to where the jobs are, from lagging to leading regions within a country or across borders. This leads to optimal utilization of their human capital and to important gains for them and the economy. The movement of migrants to economic opportunities and to networks that help them integrate the labor market, leads to geographical concentrations of migrant populations. Notably the flows of high-skilled migrants are very concentrated, as they tend to go to few countries worldwide, and to a few selected areas within the country. Agglomeration effects and knowledge spillovers increase the productivity of high-skilled workers who work in the same area or collaborate with other high-skilled workers.
Lebanon has long hosted refugee populations. In 1948 Palestinians began arriving fleeing violence due to the formation of the Israeli state. The Syrian refugee crisis has resulted in yet another wave of refugees into Lebanon. Due to the unprecedented scale of the displacement, the Syrian refugee crisis has captured international attention. Yet, this has been at the expense of other crises and vulnerable populations.
Tara Nathan, Executive Vice President for Government and Development at Mastercard, has published an interesting short piece on the World Economic Forum website. She joins the current new thinking supporting refugee self-reliance that benefits both refugees and hosting communities. In Nathan’s words: “A new model must create communities in which the forcibly displaced can become self-sufficient faster and can contribute to the economic growth of their host communities.”
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, its neighbor Lebanon quickly became the country that hosts the highest number of refugee per capita; today one in four is a refugee. Initially, Lebanon had an open-border with Syria. Between 2013 and 2014, UNHCR registered on average over 48,000 refugees per month. Despite the massive influx, Lebanon did not create refugee camps for Syrians.
In a June 12 speech to governments and NGOs at UNHCR’s annual consultations on refugee resettlement in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made a passionate plea for additional resettlement pledges from participating nations. He will likely be disappointed.
Despite the growing scale of forced displacement, it is increasingly clear that traditional durable solutions are only working for a limited number of refugees across the globe. The realization of durable solutions for refugees remains bleak: repatriation is often not possible due to persistent insecurity and weak governance; host countries continue to resist or restrict opportunities for local integration; and resettlement slots remain limited to less than 1% of the global refugee population. In recent years, academics have argued that continued emphasis on these three solutions “fails to recognize a fundamental need to move away from understanding all solutions simply in terms of ‘fixing’ people in places.”
The protracted nature of refugee situations has become increasingly common, underlining the importance of finding solutions that incorporate the economic opportunities and access to livelihoods in countries of first asylum. Indeed, we are witnessing a shift from a humanitarian assistance based framework, which has contributed to the long term problem of refugee dependence, to a developmental framework that would promote refugee self-reliance. This shift has been aided by strategic partnerships between UNHCR and non-traditional actors, including the Ford Foundation, Trickle Up, and the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. In the post, I discuss the introduction of the Graduation Approach as a way for refugees to overcome extreme poverty.