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Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student, find Karen Ng gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies’.

Past participants of the Skoll World Forum often praised the event as a safe space for leaders and practitioners of social change to be honest, viagra buy reflective and challenging of their own experiences and each other’s ideas. This session – ambitiously named “Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies” – was a perfect exhibit of that openness and vulnerability.

Root Causes

The session opened with a video produced by White Helmets, a group of volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to in war-torn areas in Syria. It showed the volunteers’ effort to pull out a 2-month old “miracle baby” who survived barrel bombs and was trapped among rubbles of collapsed buildings.

It set the stage for Farouk Habib, Program Director of Mayday Rescue (an international non-profit organization that trains and supports White Helmets and many other emergency response groups), to share his thoughts on the root causes of the crisis.

“Refugees did not escape due to hunger, but due to security”, he said. The crisis was resulted from the dictatorship’s oppression that lasted for over 40 years. To deal with the root cause, “we need real political transition to a democratically elected government”.

Running out of solutions

Without an end to the conflict in sight, what are the short-term remedies? Joanne Liu, International President at Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), described the dire situation as observed on the frontlines. MSF provides medical support, and carries out search and rescue operations in conflict areas. Out of MSF’s 153 medical facilities, 63 were attacked by aerial bombs and 2 were completely destroyed. The recent closure of borders made their work even more difficult, as refugees are effectively in detention with no idea of when and where their trips will end. MSF readily adopts tele-medicine, however access to bedside support is still extremely crucial but lacking especially in siege areas.

“This is the biggest failure seen in international community”, she said. MSF has been on the fields for over 40 years and yet, “I am out of solutions, I have never been so desperate for a situation”. She called for the international community to step up, “States should live up to their responsibilities according to the Refugees Convention and give back humanity to people who are fleeing war zones”.

Unreasonable Optimism

With a room full of changemakers and innovators, they do not take “no” for an answer. Audience shared their thoughts on different ideas to harness technology and media to empower refugees and humanitarian workers. Corinne Gray, Innovation Engagement Officer at UNHCR, also shared their optimism. She emphasised the importance of bottom-up solutions, and provided examples of UNHCR’s recent projects to empower refugees through user-led innovation process (a step beyond user-centric design process). She also highlighted the power of engaging with private sector to utilise the businesses’ resources and capacity beyond philanthropic donations, such as distributive capacities of delivery companies and mobile networks of telecoms.

Changing the Narrative

The one thing that all panellists agreed on is the need to change the current narrative, especially on the refugees. As Liu explained, by changing the narrative from refugees to migration, we “take away the right to asylum and protection”. She calls for a stop in thinking about refugees as “good” or “bad” refugees, but accepting our collective responsibility to give back humanity to people fleeing war zones. “When motivated by fear, we will get the wrong answer. The trigger should be life – safeguarding lives – as all lives count”.

The civil society, especially the media, should recognise that these refugees are fleeing for their lives and not merely driven by better economic opportunities. As Habib stated, “all of them dream of going back home”. To enable the bottom-up solutions described earlier, Gray advocated the need to view refugees as “people with capacities, skill sets and had jobs” who, given the appropriate resources, access, training and mentorship, can be leaders of change themselves. Liu echoed the view, and said that “Remember they are looking for a future. No one is more innovative than people looking for a future”.