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Forced displacement is at historic levels as a result of global conflict and crises. Meanwhile economic migration—a known driver of development—has been demonized as part of the backlash against globalization. As nations work toward the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees, governments and international agencies are struggling to respond to the scale of need and the polarization of attitudes.
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You've seen the headlines: Hundreds of villages burned. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh—and in just one month.
"In humanitarian terms, it's as desperate a situation as you can imagine,” says Eric Schwartz of Refugees International. We’re talking about the Rohingya—an ethnic minority group in Myanmar now facing what the UN has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Schwartz is my guest on this week’s CGD podcast, along with Jeremy Konyndyk, CGD senior policy fellow and former director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance. I asked them both: what can the international community, and especially the US, do about the plight of the Rohingya? Here’s a preview of their response:
“Minimally, we need to be shouting from the rooftops about this horror, and we need to be doing it at the highest level, and we need to be doing it day in and day out,” Schwartz says. “Because our values demand it, but our interests demand it as well.”
“There’s a story that [President George W Bush] was briefed on what happened in Rwanda, and said, ‘Not on my watch,’” Konyndyk tells me. “This is a ‘not on my watch’ moment for the Trump Administration and everyone who works in it, and I would hope they treat it accordingly.”
To learn more, listen to the full podcast at the top of this page and read Jeremy's blog post on how the US should respond to the Rohingya crisis. For innovative solutions to help refugees, check out our reports on refugee compacts and private sector engagement.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in a matter of weeks. The UN has called the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” What can the international community, and especially the US, do about it? Refugees International's Eric Schwartz and CGD's Jeremy Konyndyk have some ideas.
3.5 million children around the world are refugees, many with little or no access to schooling. That means we won’t come anywhere near our targets for the fourth Sustainable Development Goal—quality education for all—unless we can address the refugee crisis. Save the Children International president Helle Thorning-Schmidt joins the CGD podcast to discuss how donor countries can help.
“I feel we are stealing their future twice,” says Helle Thorning-Schmidt, president of Save the Children International. “First they have to flee from their homes and everything they know, then we steal their future by not providing an education to these children.”
She’s talking about refugee children, of whom there are 3.5 million around the world. “More children ... are getting access to primary education, but because so many children are refugees and they’re not getting education, we are actually not increasing the number” of children in schools, she tells me in the podcast.
In other words, we won’t come anywhere near our targets for the fourth Sustainable Development Goal—quality education for all—unless we can address the refugee crisis.
And it’s not enough just to sit them down in the seats. “Far too many children go to school without learning anything,” Thorning-Schmidt says, echoing the oft-repeated CGD premise that “schooling ain’t learning.”
So what should countries be focusing on? “It’s money, it’s quality of the teaching, it’s what goes on in the classroom, but it’s also legislation and red tape in many countries that stops these children from accessing school and learning,” Thorning-Schmidt says. “Often it’s very simple things we have to be doing.”
With more than 145 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 65 million people forcibly displaced, growing risks of climate-driven natural hazards, food insecurity on the rise and four countries struggling to stave off famine, the global humanitarian system faces exceptional challenges. As needs outstrip funding, it is clear that traditional ways of doing business will not suffice. These global crises cannot be addressed without rethinking the link between humanitarian response and development assistance. CGD is delighted to welcome Mark Lowcock, less than two months into his new position as the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. As the UN system’s lead for global relief activities, he is charged with coordinating how humanitarian agencies respond and work together to address global emergencies. After delivering remarks, he will join CGD president Masood Ahmed to discuss successes, challenges, priorities, and reforms for the global humanitarian system in a time of urgent and growing need.
Long-simmering conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has exploded in recent weeks, leading to the rapid flight of more than 400,000 members of the country’s Rohingya population into neighboring Bangladesh. The pace of this flight has few precedents in recent history, faster even than the massive flight of Albanians from Kosovo during the 1999 war. The Rohingya are fleeing what appears to be a conscious campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces, in what numerous observers argue constitutes a policy of ethnic cleansing. Those who have survived the violence and escaped to Bangladesh face enormous humanitarian needs, and uncertain prospects for ever returning to their now-razed villages and homes. Refugees International, Human Rights Watch, and numerous other agencies are assessing and documenting the violence and have deployed personnel to the border region to interview survivors.
Germans have given Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term as chancellor, but once again without a parliamentary majority. It seems likely that Merkel will now try to negotiate a black-green-yellow “Jamaica coalition” (referring to the parties’ colors) with the Greens and the pro-business Liberals replacing the Social Democrats as coalition partners. Despite the gain in vote for nationalists, our analysis suggests the Jamaica coalition could actually strengthen Germany’s role in accelerating global development, as well as benefitting Germany.
In this blog, we look at the what the Jamaica coalition means using the framework of our Commitment to Development Index—which ranks rich countries on aid, migration, technology, environment, trade, finance, and security.
Germany’s starting point on Commitment to Development
Overall, Germany ranked fifth (out of 27 countries that we assess) and first on migration, largely because it has accepted so many refugees in recent years. We counted migrants as “1” when they came from the poorest country (Democratic Republic of Congo) and “0” when coming from the richest country (Norway). This method quantified that Germany lifted the equivalent of “880,000 poverty weighted migrants” out of extreme poverty last year! But a ratio of one new migrant for every 92 Germans, contributed to the rise of the far right nationalists (AfD) who have become the third largest party in parliament. Regardless of the election results, mounting public pressure will reduce migration. But a poll of economists thinks the Jamaica coalition is actually more migration-friendly than a continuation of the previous grand coalition would have been.
On aid, Germany met the international commitment of 0.7 percent of national income (GNI) on aid (overseas development assistance) for the first time in 2016. This included high expenditure on hosting refugees—but to maintain 0.7 when fewer refugees arrive, overseas development assistance would have to ramp up quickly.
On environmental policies, high emissions per capita mean Germany might not meet the Paris agreement commitment to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2020. The global poor will suffer the consequences: climate change might push 100 million people back into poverty by 2030. This is partly due to Germany’s poor policy choices, like burning and subsidising fossil fuels. Both the Greens and Liberals want to phase out these subsidies.
On technology more widely, there has been an increase in overall R&D spending to 0.88 per cent of GDP, but this is still lower than in many other countries. Spending more to create new technologies like mobile phones or biometric IDs can transform development and is a perfect example of investing in global public goods. All major parties want to increase R&D spending to 3.5 per cent of GDP by 2025—a “Jamaica coalition” will not change anything significantly here but this is a positive direction for development.
Germany’s trade policies have a significant impact on developing countries. Free trade agreements such as the EU’s “everything but arms” initiative give poor countries tariff-free access and have the potential to dramatically reduce poverty. For instance, a recent natural experiment suggests trade deals such as these can lower infant mortality by about 9 per cent.
On security policy, Germany has been criticized by the US for failing to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. This figure includes spending on UN peacekeeping, for which Germany spends only 0.03 per cent of GDP—less than the OECD average, and this at a time when the UN peacekeeping budget is facing deep cuts. This is a matter of real concern because security and development are closely interlinked—for instance, one study suggests that civil wars decrease GDP per capita by 17.5 percent. Merkel’s conservatives want to double defence spending to reach 2 percent of GDP by 2024. The Liberals also want to increase defence spending, unlike the Greens, who want to specifically focus on increasing support for UN peacekeeping.
Overall then, taking the policy commitments of the Liberals and Greens and adding them to Merkel’s conservative bloc in a “Jamaica coalition” could bode well both for Germany, and development beyond aid.
The level of challenge faced by Jordan and Moldova on refugees and migration is remarkable: while Jordan has welcomed over a million Syrian refugees, Moldova has a migration outflow equivalent to a quarter of its population. Without the option of closing their borders, the scale of these movements not only puts the challenge for developed countries into context, but provides important insights on the importance of planning, and of innovation in policy.
Here we draw out some of those insights from our event at this week’s UN General Assembly (UNGA). The event looked at Commitment to Development, migration’s role, and how developed countries can learn from those countries that have faced massive and contrasting challenges on refugees and migration.
The UN General Assembly and the future of migration
At last year’s UNGA, world leaders instigated work on two new “compacts,” which aim to agree consistent responsibilities and expectations on refugees and migration. This year’s event marked a mid-point in that work. Accordingly, we convened a high-level panel on our Commitment to Development Index and innovations in migration policy.
In her opening remarks, UN Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour reminded us about the valuable contribution migrants make, but also that in many societies, migrants are being held back in everyday life which prevents them from contributing fully.
Migration challenges and innovations in Jordan and Moldova
The Commitment to Development Index (CDI) measures 27 rich countries’ policies on migration, and the example of the two developing countries—Jordan and Moldova—provided some policy inspiration.
The Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad N. Fakhoury described the scale of challenge around hosting more than a million Syrian refugees (over 10 percent of Jordan’s total population), and the new realities that internationally displaced people tend to stay in their host countries long-term (on average almost a quarter of a century). This has required policy innovation in the face of emerging challenges.
For example, should Jordan pay to educate refugee children? Fiscally, this was a significant challenge for an emerging economy. And should refugees be given the right to work given the likely alternative of un-taxed employment with the risk of exploitation? Minister Fakhoury provided an inspirational perspective on how Jordan responded to the challenges of integrating migrants in a both innovative and pragmatic way—issuing labour permits, allowing refugees to integrate in communities (only about 10 percent of all Syrian refugees live in designated camps), and ensuring education for their children. These steps enable refugees to contribute and to lead a self-determined life.
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration Lilian Darii explained his country’s innovative policies facing a different challenge: how a quarter of Moldovans had emigrated—either permanently or to take up seasonal employment.
For Moldova, this has necessitated taking a long-term approach to migration—harnessing the benefits of remittances which account for almost a quarter of Moldova’s GDP and making the most of potential returners with an active diaspora programme and working to transfer pension rights on their return. A Mobility Partnership agreement with the EU has also helped promote legal mobility.
Two broad lessons for developed countries
The CDI takes a broad and holistic view of developed-countries’ approach on refugees and migrants. Along with the insights form Jordan and Moldova, we suggest the most successful approaches rely on two broader approaches:
Future planning: as obvious as it sounds, being prepared for potential demand for migration is important. In the coming years, growing economic prosperity will give more people the opportunity to move away from the risk of persecution, or if climate or other disasters strike or simply to pursue a better life for themselves and their children. Moldova and Jordan now plan for the reality of migration, and were ready to tackle its challenges.
Innovative policy: international migration is growing and offers huge developmental opportunities, but will require genuinely new and innovative approaches. There are examples of successful policies which benefit host countries, the country of origin and the migrant himself. CGD’s Michael Clemens has highlighted New Zealand’s extremely successful seasonal workers scheme. He also written about the potential of the Global Skills Partnership to simultaneously tackle problems related to aging populations and a lack of skilled workers in developed countries, while enabling training in sending countries—and a better live for migrants.
Investing in migration policy
Rich countries can learn from the experience of Jordan and Moldova on refugees and migrants. The level of challenge faced by these countries has driven them to plan carefully—considering costs against unspent potential of refugees and migrants—and then use innovative policy approaches to achieve the right balance. In different ways, these policies have helped ensure refugees, migrants, and their children can both contribute and benefit.
The words of one of our participants seem an appropriate way to conclude:
“Migration is a challenge that is here to stay. We must invest in ways of dealing with it."