Refugees are pouring into Europe, mainly because of the growing number of conflicts and wars in nearby regions. How can we solve this? First take refugees in, then invest in confl ict prevention, says Thea Hilhorst, professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at Wageningen University.
Are we being inundated?
‘We shouldn’t exaggerate. In the EU the number of refugees now constitutes 0.2 percent of the population. Surely we can look after them? England is now taking in fewer refugees than five years ago. Compare that with a country like Lebanon, where there are now 1.7 million Syrian refugees.’
Isn’t it better to cater for them in the region though?
‘That is true but there are limits. Even though the budgets for humanitarian aid rose last year from 20 to 24 billion dollars, they cannot keep up with the growth in humanitarian crises. At the moment there are conflict flashpoints in more than 30 countries, all with substantial aid programmes. The world food programme does not have enough funding to provide all those refugees in the region with food; it has to be rationed.’
Is there a solution?
‘There is too little discussion about how you can reduce the number of refugees. It is ironic that we have economized in recent years on international diplomacy and development aid. It is often possible to prevent conflicts. We should invest in conflict preventions and in risk reduction for natural disasters, to remove the cause of the migration flow. We must create a better world.’
And in the short term?
‘We must take in more refugees. I wouldn’t mind taking one in at home. And then there will be a UN conference next year to see whether we can organize the reception of refugees better and more efficiently. Now it costs an average of 200 dollars per refugee – that covers food and shelter. I don’t think that’s much; I don’t think it can be done any more cheaply than that.’