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Let’s forge a stronger, fairer response to refugee situations 

Editing Office - Geneva

The word “refugee” gives to a great deal of frenzied rhetoric in some of the world’s wealthiest nations. We hear about the global north being overwhelmed by outsiders, with its way of life under threat. Refugees are dehumanized, vilified, and blamed for all kinds of social and economic ills. The reality is that communities in developing nations host far larger numbers of refugees. While some politicians in poor and rich countries spend time and money stoking fear or pushing people away, it would be a far better investment to figure out how best to help refugees regain their dignity, self-reliance, and independence through innovative partnerships and forward-thinking policies. If you want to know how to deal with the global refugee crisis, look at what is happening in Ethiopia, Pakistan, Turkey, Germany, or Ecuador, to name a few.

This gives rise to some difficult conversations. As head of the UN Refugee Agency, I often find myself talking to leaders of poor countries that are facing huge influxes of refugees, and being asked to explain why some wealthier countries are trying to keep refugees away. Let me set out the reasons why such practices are based on misperceptions and false assumptions, and is in practical terms self-defeating. First, some numbers. There are 25.4 million refugees in the world today, an exodus fuelled by a proliferation of conflicts, poor governance, and human rights abuses, which the international community seems unable to resolve. Although some of the more strident reporting and political commentary might lead you to think they are all camped on the doorsteps of the global north, in fact, 85% of refugees are living in poor or developing countries that neighbour their own. Those countries are the ones who bear the greatest burden. 

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