Chr. Michelsen lecture 2019: Sustainable Sanctuaries: The Economic Inclusion of Refugees
Contrary to popular belief, most refugees are not in Europe or North America. 85% of the world's refugees are hosted by low and middle-income countries. Historically, the default approach in these countries has been to assist refugees in camps, in which they are often denied the right to work. The assumption is that refugees represent an inevitable burden on host states rather than potential contributors to national development. This talk fundamentally challenges that assumption, arguing that the economic inclusion of refugees offers a pathway to sustainable refuge, with potential benefits to host communities, donor governments, and refugees themselves.
Drawing upon mixed methods, participatory research in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, including an original panel data set on the economic lives of refugees and host communities, the talk examines a series of questions relating to the economics, politics, and ethics of supporting the participation of refugees within the national economies of the host countries. In relation to the economics, it asks: 1) what explains differences in refugees' welfare outcomes? 2) what difference does government regulation on the right to work make to refugees and hosts? 3) are refugees economically distinctive compared to hosts? 4) what assistance models work best? 5) when do refugees choose onward migration? In relation to the politics, it explores the interests and power relations that explain variation in the local and national willingness to economically include refugees. In relation to ethics, it examines some of the challenges relating to a market-based approach to refugee assistance. The talk concludes by offering a road map for a sustainable (and evidence-based) global refugee system.
Alexander Betts is Leopold Muller Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs and a Fellow of Green-Templeton College at the University of Oxford, where he was previously the Hedley Bull Research Fellow in International Relations. His research focuses on the international politics of asylum, migration and humanitarianism with a geographical focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Implementation and World Politics: How International Norms Change Practice (with Phil Orchard, Oxford University Press, 2014), Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development (with Louise Bloom, Josiah Kaplan, and Naohiko Omata, Oxford University Press, 2016), Mobilising the Diaspora: How Refugees Challenge Authoritarianism (with Will Jones, Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System (with Paul Collier, Penguin Allen Lane, 2017). He has worked for UNHCR and as a consultant to the Council of Europe, UNDP, UNICEF, IOM, and the Commonwealth Secretariat,