The fundamental question: resettlement or repatriation?

The fundamental question: resettlement or repatriation? November 17, 2015

By Voice of America News: Henry Ridgwell on Turkish border, "Refugees Flee Aleppo; Hot, Barren Turkish Camps Await". [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Voice of America News: Henry Ridgwell on Turkish border, “Refugees Flee Aleppo; Hot, Barren Turkish Camps Await”. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I harped on this back in September, for instance, in a pair of blog posts on September 3rd and September 5th, and, it seems to me, elsewhere, too.  The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves, and policymakers have to ask, and world leaders, generally, and then answer, and then act on that answer:

Is the long-term plan for Syrian refugees resettlement or repatriation?

Have we abandoned Syria and Iraq to ISIS, and war and chaos, and, even with respect to rump Assad-run Syria, oppression?  Do we accept that the millions of refugees in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere, will simply be unable to return to their home country?  If so, then, yes, we need to resettle them, much as millions of refugees from Indochina were resettled, mostly in the U.S., in the two decades after the fall of Saigon.  It’ll be costly, yes, but necessary.  But know that once we do, we cement the status quo in those countries.

Or do we believe that within a reasonable length of time, ISIS will be defeated, Assad will be removed, and those countries will again be places to which the refugees can be repatriated, in the same way as Afghani refugees were repatriated after the Taliban were ousted?  In that case, resettlement is a lousy idea, not only due to the upheaval it causes on the receiving countries, but because those countries will be left without an educated class to rebuild the country.

At the same time, if repatriation is the policy objective, we can’t just sit on our thumbs and wait passively for the situation to resolve itself, or imagine that it’s “somebody else’s job” to deal with it.  Who, after all, are these somebodies?  The Syrians themselves, even the young men of fighting age?  I suppose we should be grateful that they’re just leaving, rather than joining up with ISIS, but it is nonetheless the case that they aren’t staying to fight.  Other Arab countries?  From what I understand, Jordan is doing what it can, and the Kurds, as well, though we aren’t willing to send over arms, for fear of upsetting the Turks who hold a lot of cards, as it’s in their power to expel Syrian refugees and send them northwards.

I’m revisiting this today because of two must-read articles that appeared yesterday:

In the National Review, Mark Krikorian writes, “Refugee Resettlement is Immoral.”  What he means by that is this:

[T]he goal of refugee assistance is . . . to assist as many people as possible with the resources available. And resettling a relative handful of them here to help us bask in our own righteousness means we are sacrificing the much larger number who could have been helped with the same resources.

The difference in cost is enormous. The Center for Immigration Studies, which I head, recently calculated that it costs twelve times as much to resettle a refugee in the United States as it does to care for the same refugee in a neighboring country in the Middle East. The five-year cost to American taxpayers of resettling a single Middle Eastern refugee in the United States is conservatively estimated to be more than $64,000, compared with U.N. figures that indicate it costs about $5,300 to provide for that same refugee for five years in his native region. Each refugee we bring to the United States means that eleven others are not being helped with that money.

In other words, each refugee we bring to the United States means that eleven others are not being helped with that money. Faced with twelve drowning people, only a monster would send them a luxurious one-man boat rather than twelve life jackets. And yet, with the best of intentions, that is exactly what we are doing when we choose one lucky winner to resettle here.

This is very important to recognize; read the whole thing, as they say.  And yet this presumes that the situation in Syria and ISIS-held territory, in general, will be resolved favorably (or, to put it more appropriately, that somone will resolve it) without these people living their entire lives in refugee camps.

At the same time, Reihan Salam writes, “Resettling Syrian Refugees: An Alternative; Economic opportunity closer to home is better than a struggle to integrate abroad,” in which he observes that integrating millions of Syrians and other refugees and migrants into the European community is a tall order, indeed.  The social spending required to achieve their economic integration is enormous (especially in light of their, on average, low education levels, and the existing high levels of youth unemployment in Southern Europe), and their social/cultural integration is doubtful even so, especially given how un-integrated Muslims already living in Europe (Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden, etc.) still are.

Salam shares a new proposal:

There is an alternative to large-scale refugee resettlement in Europe, though it poses many practical challenges of its own. In “Help Refugees Help Themselves,” an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier offer a plan that would resettle Syrian refugees closer to home. While hundreds of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in Europe, millions have instead made their way to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Some have found themselves in refugee camps; others have settled in cities, where they work illegally and lead a marginal existence. Betts and Collier offer a more sustainable solution: Instead of herding refugees into camps where they are forced to subsist on aid, they call for the creation of special economic zones. Essentially, a consortium of countries, including all of the major Western economies, would create financial incentives and trade concessions to spur industrial development in these zones, which would employ refugees and, in some number, citizens of the host country. Betts and Collier note that the Jordanian government has already established a number of industrial zones, one of which, King Hussein Bin Talal Development Area in the eastern Mafraq Governorate, is just 10 miles away from the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp. With its current infrastructure, KHBTDA can accommodate as many as 100,000 workers, but it currently employs only 10,000. If KHBTDA were reinvented as a special economic zone for Syrian refugees, Betts and Collier report that it could employ every worker in the Zaatari camp and only reach half of its full capacity. With the help of the international community, KHBTDA could become a hub for labor-intensive manufacturing and other kinds of productive economic activity. Ultimately, skills learned and firms established in these new special economic zones could be brought back to Syria once peace is re-established there.

Which, I’ll remind readers, isn’t all that different from my half-baked suggestion last January to use al-Sisi’s intention to take Egypt in a moderate direction by funding it as a great center for refugee intake.

Is this resettlement or repatriation?  It attempts to be somewhere in-between — a viable solution for a longer period of time than a tent in a refugee camp, in which refugees are able to support themselves and have a “real life” with jobs and education and homes and communities, but in places where the ties are maintained so that repatriation is ultimately possible, even if only as a long-term goal.

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