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The failure of refugee camps


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In the Boston Review, Elizabeth Dunn writes about how refugee camps, even the best-funded and seemingly “comfortable” ones, failure in their intended purpose. Check out an excerpt below and the full article here.

Europe is currently encountering the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and North Africa, who are braving the seas in rickety boats, streaming around fences, and occupying train stations in their quest to resettle. It’s being called a “crisis,” but the term suggests a problem that will end. Thanks to more frequent and savage civil wars around the world, the global population of displaced people has more than tripled in the last 10 years, from 20 million to more than 60 million, a population almost the size of the United Kingdom. European politicians may not want to admit it, but they are struggling with the central problem of twenty-first century global politics. Climate change, political instability, and other factors virtually guarantee the twenty-first century will see many more people made into refugees, or economic migrants.

The problem is compounded by the total failure of the refugee camp as a humanitarian and political technology. Since the 1950s, Western Europe has tried to keep displaced people outside its borders by funding large-scale refugee camps in Third World countries. Despite the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ call for “durable solutions” for displaced people, the plan for most refugees is for them to wait in camps until they can return home, even when there is no end in sight to the wars or occupations that have displaced them. But while these camps offer politicians a convenient way to avoid making decisions about foreign wars and domestic immigration issues, the camps can only offer refugees a way of life that is permanently temporary. With no long-term prospects for permanent relocation and even the basic necessities for sustaining life in short supply, it is no surprise that displaced people are attempting the dangerous voyage to Europe.

Image: Skra, a camp in the Republic of Georgia. Via Boston Review.