Position Paper: International Migration and Refugee Crisis Intervention

Issued by the Peace and Justice Studies Association
Authored by Jeremy Rinker, Ph.D. and Laura Finley, Ph.D.

The Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA), in keeping with its longstanding concern for just and peaceable responses to on-going issues of structural and cultural violence, strongly applauds the dedicated work and efforts of local, national, and multi-national refugee service providers in bringing humanitarian care and support to those caught up in the largest refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. The gaps in providing international refugees safe passage and support as they flee both environmental and man-made catastrophe worldwide represent a major challenge for state governments and localities in more ‘developed’ countries and more stable neighbor states. Despite this daunting international challenge, we at PJSA believe that given the historic legacies of colonialism, systematic oppression, and modern neo-liberal economic policies, those in more developed countries must squarely face this challenge while not shying away from the economic costs and human impacts associated with the effective and safe migration of vulnerable refugees. Many of theses refugees, having been internally displaced persons (IDPs)[1] for some time, have, with little hope for change in their home country, decided to take refuge internationally. Providing safe passage and a humane process to achieve resettlement is part and parcel of what it means to be a global citizen.

Developed countries, not only have a collective moral responsibility to enact a comprehensive and coordinated refugee and migration response, but also a social and humanitarian responsibility to work to lessen, where possible, the suffering that results from the violence, instability, and trauma that international refugee populations are involuntarily experiencing worldwide. Beyond the social and moral responsibility to ensure the safe passage and social integration of refugees from the contexts of war, human rights abuse, environmental degradation, and ethnic and political persecution, a coordinated international policy that supports social inclusion benefits the strategic interests of the more “developed” countries where refugees aspire to re-settle.[2] The safety and citizenship needs of a growing international refugee population must be systematically addressed by joint-collaborative action of state and non-state actors working off a set of international best practices for supporting, protecting, and resettling refugee communities. While the world argues over quotas and dollars to deal with the looming refugee crisis, we at the PJSA call for a robust and variegated public discussion of best practices in refugee advocacy and services provision at the local level as well as coordinated response to safety and flow of migrants on the international level. Given recent terrorist attacks around the world, we at the PJSA see the important need to discuss refugee immigration systems and policies on the international level, as well as, the need to discuss re-settlement issues at the local level. In too many communities this discussion is dominated by under-informed and reactionary discourse that fails to open spaces for further discussion and effective response to the on-going crisis. This is not the time to close borders, but to open dialogue about fair and just international refugee migration and support services.

According to the UNHCR, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, there are an estimated 59.5 million forcibly displaced persons in the world today. At the end of 2014, an estimated 19.5 million people were classified as refugees, an increase of 2.9 million over the previous year. As a result of primarily violent conflict, human rights abuses, and persecution, an average of 42,500 people each day were forced to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere in their country or outside of its borders in 2014. While these statistics are startling, what is more concerning is a lack of coordinated intervention in response to the recent Syrian refugee crisis. By the end of 2014, Syria had replaced Afghanistan as the largest source of refugees, with approximately one-quarter of the world’s refugees.[3] World Vision noted in November 2014 that of the twelve million Syrians who have fled their homes, half are children.[4] More than 700,000 Syrian refugees and other migrants have faced additional violence and challenges as they have sought refuge in European countries and more than 3,200 have died during their travels.[5] While the scale of this tragedy is hard to put into words, the lasting effects of antiquated refugee policies in an age of porous borders, global integration, and increasing environmental degradation will only become a compounded problem over the coming years. Without coordinated dialogue about best practices of international migration systems and local refugee services, this problem will only grow and become more protracted. As Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, recently wrote in The Guardian in analyzing the Syrian refugee crisis: “To be clear; there will always be a multitude of drivers behind of social unrest and armed conflict. It would be wrong to say climate change “caused” these conflicts, but equally the evidence suggests it would be wrong to say it didn’t play a contributing role.”[6]

To overcome the myriad of contributing factors to current social unrest and, therefore, large scale refugee migration, coordinated international refugee migration strategies much be discussed, debated, and enacted. We at the PJSA propose developing theory to practice dialogues at the international level that outline the ways and means to address the root causes of conflict and the best practices for handling international migration and refugee resettlement services. It is our belief that the complex humanitarian and security imperatives of international migration and refugee resettlement services cannot be achieved separately, but only through cooperation. Concerns that refugees compromise the safety and security of developed country nationals represents a foil against the strong record of collaboration between international security professionals and refugee service provision in the United States and Europe. Such fear also closes opportunities to actively address the root causes of migration and, therefore, work together to mitigate them.

Some 86 percent of the world’s refugees reside in developing countries and over half (51 percent) are under the age of 18—the highest percentage in a decade. The social, political, and economic ramifications of these massive flows of young and largely able-bodied refugees requires well-reasoned response, sustained international dialogue, and reflective local interventions. Not only is there danger in the actual migration for refugees, but once resettled in their new homes, the challenges these populations face are immense. The PJSA calls for governments, non-governmental organizations, and the international community to work in tandem to identify the complex root causes of human migration and thereby work to develop best practices for international refugee migration and, thereby, have a discernable impact on local refugee service provision. This means first acknowledging and working to address the following global realities and associated best practices for managing effective international refugee migration. Realizing the contingent nature of the relationship between international migration and local resettlement, we believe that attention to these global dynamics are critical to success:

Poverty, economic inequality, and economic migrants – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported: “In its 34 member states, the richest 10% of the population earn 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10%.”[7] OECD member states include most of Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan. In the ‘developing’ world this growing gap between rich and poor is even worse and, indeed, drives migration to these OECD member states. Poverty and inequity does not help anyone — indeed, it breeds uncertainty, fear, and grievance. The gap between rich and poor worldwide must be addressed in order to control the flows of refugees migrating out of dire economic circumstances.

Environmental refugees and climate change – The World Economic Forum warned in 2014 that “growing income inequality is the biggest risk the world may face within the next 10 years.”[8] Extreme weather as a result of climate change was seen as the second biggest threat.[9] The realities of climate change pose a larger threat to our internal security in the United States and Europe than the arrival of refugee displaced from conflict in Syria or elsewhere. The international community must have sustained dialogue on the impacts of global warming on international migration and refugee resettlement. Though this dialogue, agreements related to mitigating the climate problem can be discussed, but just as importantly coordination in dealing with the human flows due to environmental migration must be developed and enacted.

Migration services and cross-border humanity – With each state determining its own internal immigration policies and procedures, lack of coordination in these policies leads to an increased risk to migrants and refugees traveling over vast areas to achieve refuge. The PJSA calls on the international community to develop political agreements and coordination among border enforcement agencies. This trans-border coordination would not only increase human security for international migrants, but also assist the resettlement work of local refugee service providers. The lack of humanity in dealing with refugees crossing state borders must be systematically addressed with an international convention on migration services best practices.[10]

Provide stop-gap minimum guidelines for migrant health and psycho-social service provision – Adult refugees and IDPs likely suffer from anger, anxiety, and depression. Those living in refugee camps are often subjected to abuses. Many have been injured and find it difficult to work. They worry about keeping their children safe, healthy, and educated. Many have little hope.[11] While the physical and psychological impacts of trauma on these vulnerable bodies has been well-documented worldwide, our understanding of the social impacts of trauma’s legacy on displaced communities is rudimentary at best. Coordinated effort must be made to catalogue and document best practices for providing migrants and refugees psycho-social health resources.

Focus on ensuring refugee child education and development – Children who are displaced are at risk of illness, malnutrition, and abuse. Most are unable to attend school regularly; some, not at all. Between two and three million Syrian children of school-age are not currently attending school. Many have had to work to support their families while others have been recruited as soldiers or to serve as human shields for warring parties. The trauma they have endured can have long-lasting effects that must be addressed through appropriate and holistic educational techniques and practices.[12] The international community should commit money and resources to ensuring that a generation of children does not get left behind due to human migration.

PJSA members realize these global realities and associated best practices require much from the countries of the developed world. The social, political, and economic challenges are real, but we believe that failure to act now to mitigate the causes and impacts of human migration will pose even greater challenges in the future. Even disregarding the clear moral responsibilities to act, the developed countries of the world must realize the benefit of collaborative intervention now. When natural disasters such as the 2005 tsunami occurred the international community acted in unison in responding to the worldwide suffering. We call on the international community to act with similar urgency in the face of a growing refugee migration and resettlement crisis worldwide.


1 Those who are forced to leave their homes for protection inside their country are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Syria, Columbia, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic are home to most of the world’s IDPs (Facts and figures about refugees. (n.d.). UNHCR. Retrieved November 5, 2015 from http://www.unhcr.org.uk/about-us/key-facts-and-figures.html (link is external)).
2 See the International Organization on Migration’s (IOM’s) migrants contribute campaign for more evidence of this fact – http://migrantscontribute.com/ (link is external) – accessed November 13, 2015.
3 Facts and figures, op. cit.
4 Syria crisis: Fast facts. (2015). World Vision. Retrieved November 5, 2015 from http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/syria-war-refugee-crisis (link is external)
5 Ibid.
6 Bennett, “Failure to act on Climate Change Means an Even Bigger Refugee Crisis” Guardian, Monday September 7, 2015 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/07/climate-change-global… (link is external) – accessed November 13, 2015.
7 Reuben, Anthony. “Gap Between Rich and Poor ‘Keeps Growing,’” BBC Business (May 21, 2015) – http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32824770 (link is external) – retrieved November 17, 2015.
8 RTF News, “Gap Between Rich and Poor the Biggest Risk to the Global Economy – World Economic Forum,” https://www.rt.com/business/world-economic-forum-inequality-754/ (link is external) – Retrieved November 17, 2015.
9 RTF News, op. cit.
10 See International Migration. 2002. Vol. 40, Issue 3, Special issue 1 on Best Practices. International Organization for Migration (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing).
11 Murray, R. (2013, November 5). Syrian refugees struggle with trauma. Al-Jazeera. Retrieved November 5, 2015 from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/syrian-refugees-strugg… (link is external)
12 Syria crisis, op. cit.