The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports there were 63.5 million refugees throughout the world at the end of 2015. The UN reports that more than half of them have been living in refugee camps for more than 5 years. As political instability increases worldwide, that number is expected to grow. Climate scientists tell us that changes in rainfall and sea levels will surely cause millions more to abandon their homes in the near future in search of water and arable land.
Refugee camps are places where people often live their entire lives without running water or proper sanitation. Refugees are often prohibited from owning properly or holding a job. Mark Lutter holds a Ph.D in economics from George Mason University. He thinks refugee camps are bad for the civilized world because they suck up limited resources instead of adding to the local economy. They are also breeding grounds for recruits to terrorist organizations.
Human beings can withstand all sorts of harsh living conditions. As a people, we are incredibly adaptable. But the one thing that is needed to maintain any semblance of a civil society is a sense of dignity. Without it, people are ripe for radicalization. Refugee camps are where terrorist organizations go to recruit new members to their cause. People who have been stripped of their dignity and see no hope for the future are easy prey for extremists.
Mark Lutter has a radical idea. He suggests that creating refugee cities could reverse many of the problems associated with refugees. Local governments are reluctant to make any investment in refugee facilities because the people are only expected to be there temporarily. The assumption is that refugees only need shelter for a short period of time until they are able to return to their homes. That’s why they are prohibited from owing property or holding jobs.
Lutter would like to turn that conventional wisdom on its head. To his mind, a refugee city is a new city built for refugees where the people would be permitted to own the land they are living on and engage in commerce among themselves and with the surrounding community. They would have access to a stable legal system. In short, they would be able to rebuild their dignity and make a contribution to society. Lutter says instead of draining resources, they would pay for themselves as a contributing part of the indigenous economy.
Paul Romer, who is now the chief economist at the World Bank, has proposed the idea of charter cities. These are new cities built in the developing world governed by developed countries. Kenya, for example, could ask Denmark to govern Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. It has been in existence since 1961.
Danish governance would then spur investment, create jobs, and leadto economic growth. The key is importing successful institutions that are known to encourage economic growth. In the alternative, city governance could be provided by the UN, the World Bank, the host country, and the developer working together.
One non-profit, Refugee Cities, is already advocating for Lutter’s idea. According to its website, “Refugee Cities exists to expand the options of displaced people by promoting special-status settlements in which they can engage in meaningful, dignifying, and rewarding work, thereby providing for their families and contributing to the economic and social development of their hosts and homelands.”
Lutter sums up his proposal this way: “The refugee crisis shows no sign of abating. Current solutions have proven insufficient. As such, it is time to think more boldly. New cities with good institutions can absorb large numbers of refugees while giving them the opportunity for better lives. It is time to build refugee cities.”
Source: Fast Coexist