Flawed and frustrating

Published by The Observer (30th July, 2017)

Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier (Allen Lane)

When the Ottoman empire collapsed almost a century ago, more than 1.2 million Orthodox Christian refugees fled into Greece. – a massive influx for a country of 5.5 million people, dwarfing the number of recent incomers. Yet the crisis was managed, not repulsed by panicking politicians, and turned into something strikingly positive for the Greeks. Backed by international loans, they moved arriving families into under-developed areas, encouraged integration and ended up dramatically improving the nation’s agricultural output.

What a contrast with the abject reaction to today’s refugee crisis, which finds Greece again on the frontline. With a few noble exceptions, the political response in the world’s wealthiest nations has been shamefully selfish and callous.

Unfortunately Refuge, although it claims to offer ‘moral and practical’ solutions, is a flawed and frustrating work. Much of the authors’ analysis is correct. The vast majority of refugees live in developing nations, yet a crisis caused by mass flight to Europe has exposed gross failures of existing systems to cope with large numbers suddenly on the move.

Yet Refuge also reflects Collier’s antipathy to mass migration and diversity in developed countries, evidenced in his previous book Exodus. Indeed, the book feels driven largely by a desire to fend off refugees from Europe by arguing they should remain in ‘haven countries’ next to war zones. And it falls for fallacies that walls stop people, that ‘brain drains’ are destructive, that people in poor countries must want to move to richer places in vast numbers.

For all its bold claims, this is far from a compelling blueprint to transform a broken and inhumane system.

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