Refugee camps should be converted into enterprise zones so residents can set up businesses and build their own infrastructure, according to a report from US-based NGO Refugee Cities.
It argues that existing aid strategies have failed, with refugees preferring to avoid the camps due to the lack of opportunities they offer. But it recommends by modelling them on special enterprise zones (SEZs), they could benefit both the refugee and the host populations, as well as giving inhabitants useful skills for their eventual return to their homelands.
“Modelled after the most successful special economic zones in the world, refugee cities work within political realities to create jobs for refugees and their neighbours, while achieving a return for investors,” says the report.
“Surrounding communities would enjoy new investment and infrastructure, and governments would welcome refugees as a benefit rather than a burden.”
SEZs are areas within a country’s national borders that operate with different business and trade laws, enabling nations to pilot ideas without countrywide changes.
Refugee Cities was founded by Michael Castle Miller, who volunteered with refugees in the US and also worked as a legal and policy consultant on SEZs.
According to the report, 65.3 million people were displaced as of the end of 2015, while a rise in global inequality, labour shortages, population growth, mobility and climate change is set to make the situation more extreme posing further strain on host countries.
“Lebanon’s one million Syrian refugees amount to a quarter of its population,” the report states. “Jordan’s 660,000 refugees are straining its housing market and water resources.”
“Ninety per cent of refugees in these countries are living below the poverty line and about half are under the age of 15.2. Meanwhile, migration to Europe is straining the fabric of the continent’s political union.”
The report also states that current “inefficient aid-based approach” as provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), perpetuates the reliance on handouts rather than responding to the aspirations of their inhabitants and utilising their skills and talents.
“Despite their best efforts, the resources of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees consistently fall short of its requirements to meet peoples’ basic needs, let alone to achieve any long-term development goals,” says the report.