EU leaders could soon come to regret having crossed their fingers and moved the refugee crisis off the urgent pile in their in-tray.
As part of his final UN General Assembly, President Obama hosted a leaders’ summit on refugees. In his speech he termed the global refugee crisis one of ‘the most urgent tests of our time’. But the list of commitments coming out of the summit did not live up to this description. The Bratislava EU summit earlier this month barely touched on refugee issues among the list of priorities to address, and there seems to be a general sense that Europe has more or less weathered the refugee storm that appeared so threatening in 2015.
There is some truth to this – for now. The number of sea crossings to the EU in the first nine months of 2016 was indeed down, at around 300,000, compared to 520,000 in 2015. But despite this there are a number of worrying trends that EU leaders would be foolish to ignore.
In June 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) presented his latest annual report on the situation of refugees and displaced persons around the world. Once again, this account documents new record levels in refugee numbers, both in industrialised and in developing countries. For governments and aid organisations, these statistics constitute an important basis for addressing displacement-related challenges in a more effective manner. However, the data provided by UNHCR is often incomplete and marked by a number of shortcomings. Increasingly high expectations are being placed on development cooperation in terms of tackling the root causes of forced displacement. Meeting these expectations requires reliable data.
Refugee crises can only be adequately addressed on the basis of comprehensive and reliable data. Displaced persons must be able to register as refugees in order to receive access to international protection and the related legal rights and aid. Host countries and communities depend on data pertaining to current displacement situations in order to plan the required services and provide the necessary administrative, personnel and material resources. The credibility of international aid organisations’ appeals for donations also rely on substantiated information about displacement situations.
Many asylum seekers who choose assisted return are from a country destroyed by war and conflict. More than half of those who return to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq plan to migrate again. Assisted return is a viable type of support to assist with the return, but is not sufficient to prevent large numbers of people once again leaving insecure countries of return. Only minor changes are required, however, to increase the potential for permanent return.
One important political objective in Norway is to encourage asylum seekers who do not have a valid residence permit to return to their country of origin. To this end, a major initiative is for the Norwegian Government to offer support for assisted return. In 2015, approximately 1,200 persons accepted the offer. This involves practical assistance with the application process and with the journey back to the country of origin. On arrival, the persons who have accepted assisted return receive financial support with a cash payment. They also receive support in the form of various reintegration measures in some countries. An evaluation – initiated by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and conducted by the CMI, PRIO and the Institute for Social Research – focused on Kosovo, where persons who chose assisted return received financial support only, and on three specially developed programmes for Afghanistan, Iraq and Ethiopia. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the financial support is administered by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), whereas a separate governmental body has been set up for this purpose in Ethiopia. The results of the evaluation are based on personal interviews with 79 persons who returned to these countries, supplemented by telephone interviews.
In 2013, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Contingency Planning Memorandum “Political Instability in Jordan” warned that the biggest threat to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom stemmed from local grievances eroding the regime’s core tribal base of support. Although economic privation, the slow pace of reform, and a widespread perception of corruption remain significant sources of popular frustration in Jordan, the palace has since vitiated its most potent tribal and Islamist domestic political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood. But as the risk of domestic unrest has diminished, the potential for spillover from the Syrian conflict has grown, posing an increasing threat to Jordan.
Jordan has a long tradition of providing sanctuary for refugees, but the kingdom has reached the saturation point. Syrian refugees in Jordan—currently around 1.4 million—constitute a significant source of instability in the kingdom. Only half are registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and less than 10 percent live in formal refugee camps; the majority are spread throughout the country.
Foreign policy rarely becomes a matter of electoral debate in Canada. But this time was different. The refugee crisis in Europe, trade negotiation deadlines, and Canada’s involvement in the Syria conflict — all pushed foreign policy under the electoral microscope for significant parts of the campaign. The decision of the three main party leaders to participate in a two-hour debate dedicated to foreign policy brought added attention.