Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Sharing refugee burden idea goes nowhere

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 21, 2012

Politically powerful countries that take in few refugees have been holding up a refugee burden sharing idea that would help take the pressure off of other countries bearing the burden. An article in the Los Angeles Times explains the burden sharing idea:

…Huge numbers pour into countries such as Pakistan and Kenya, stretching budgets and testing goodwill as supposedly temporary camps become fixtures. Refugee activists and governments have dreamed of countries sharing the load, but they say the idea is politically stagnant…

All this could be different, James Hathaway believes, if the world made a radical change that guaranteed refugees would be protected — but not necessarily in the countries where they land. Countries around the globe would divvy up responsibility for the displaced, no matter where they arrive.

No country would have to worry about single-handedly sheltering masses of people, reducing the impulse to turn them away, said Hathaway, director of the Program in Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan. Smuggling would be unnecessary. More than a decade ago, Hathaway gathered experts to imagine such a system. He’s proudest of this work, he said. And it’s gone nowhere.

Everyone thinks it’s a good idea — until they’re asked to share someone else’s burden,” said Kathleen Newland, refugee protection program director at the Migration Policy Institute…

…the fatal flaw is that politically powerful countries that get few refugees stand to lose from the idea. Many are content with the idea that they don’t have to deal with a Somalia or Syria next door.

I think of this like catastrophic health insurance — it protects you against a sudden increase in refugees,” said Peter H. Schuck, Yale University professor emeritus of law. “But most countries don’t view it that way.”… Read more here

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