Responsibility sharing can solve the refugee crisis

Responsibility sharing can solve the refugee crisis

Friends and family of the sixteen refugees that drowned on March 17 near Agathonisi island protest in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece. Photo: Giorgos Georgiou/Zuma Press/NTB Scanpix Friends and family of the sixteen refugees that drowned on March 17 near Agathonisi island protest in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece. Photo: Giorgos Georgiou/Zuma Press/NTB Scanpix

Friends and family of the sixteen refugees that drowned on March 17 near Agathonisi island protest in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece. Photo: Giorgos Georgiou/Zuma Press/NTB Scanpix

Friends and family of the sixteen refugees that drowned on March 17 near Agathonisi island protest in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece. Photo: Giorgos Georgiou/Zuma Press/NTB Scanpix

A handful of countries are shouldering the burden of housing refugees, while rich countries increasingly refuse to take on the responsibility. How would the world look if there was a more just distribution of refugees?

Today, an unprecedented number of people are displaced. Modern conflicts typically take place in poor developing countries, and most displaced people reside either inside their own country or in a neighbouring country. Most displaced people want to return home as quickly as possible, and so they seek safety and protection close to home.

However, many displacement crises become protracted, and those displaced are often unable to return home. In the ‘90s it was more common that displaced people could return home. After a few years, a peace agreement would likely be reached. But today many crises are deadlocked. The conflict in Syria has now entered its eighth year, while many Afghans have been refugees for decades.

While fewer refugees can return home, there is also little opportunity to become full citizens in the countries they reside in. Many Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are treated as second-class citizens, unable to seek employment. Uganda and Ethiopia are honourable exceptions to this; these countries have supported refugees leading as normal lives as possible. Regrettably, most refugees spend their lives waiting to return to normality.

Solving the crisis is possible

Though the number of displaced in the world is at an all-time high, we are better equipped than ever before to protect everyone. In 1950, 1.8 billion people were living in extreme poverty – more than 70 per cent of the world's population at the time. Since then, the world's population has increased to three times the size, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has gone down by two thirds. The social development in many countries is impressive, and billions of people have improved their standard of living.

The world has also become more peaceful. The wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen have caused great suffering. But the number of people killed in the world due to war and conflict is still much lower than in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

Despite the impression often given, global migration has been stable over the past 70 years. Refugees make up only a small part of all the world’s migrants. Despite the significant increase in refugees over the past five years, the number of refugees relative to the world's population is much lower now than it was at the start of the 1990s. However, the proportion of people displaced within their own country due to war and conflict has increased.

In a more affluent world, rich on resources, we have the opportunity to provide protection to those forced to flee, if the public wills it.

An internally displaced man in Herat in Afghanistan. Many Afghans have been fleeing for decades. Photo: Jim Huylebroek / NRC

An internally displaced man in Herat in Afghanistan. Many Afghans have been fleeing for decades. Photo: Jim Huylebroek / NRC

These countries have received the most refugees

Registration line for Congolese refugees fleeing violence into Uganda. Thousands are fleeing from violence in DR Congo’s Ituri region and entered Uganda across Lake Albert using fishing boats and canoes. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Registration line for Congolese refugees fleeing violence into Uganda. Thousands are fleeing from violence in DR Congo’s Ituri region and entered Uganda across Lake Albert using fishing boats and canoes. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Turkey has received the most refugees in the world according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Global Trends study. Now, almost four million refugees live there. The other countries receiving a large number of refugees are almost all African and Asian. Of the western countries, Germany has received the most refugees, at 1.4 million.

In 2017, a total of 3.6 million refugees arrived in a new country, either on their own or as resettlement refugees. Turkey received almost 20 per cent of all new refugees in 2017. After Turkey, Bangladesh (18 per cent), Uganda (15 per cent), Sudan (14 per cent) and Germany (8 per cent) received the most people.

When many people are forced to flee at the same time, neighbouring countries are often faced with receiving many people in little time, as was the case for Bangladesh in 2017. Other countries far away from war and conflict also receive a significant number of refugees every year, usually as asylum seekers and resettlements refugees, like Sweden has done for years.

Many wealthy nations receive few refugees

Aspects like population size, natural resources, unemployment rates and economic development affect how equipped a country is to receive refugees. To see which countries are contributing above or below their ability, we have compared the number of refugees received by each country in 2017 to the size of their gross domestic product (GDP). The percentage shows to what extent each country is contributing related to their economic capabilities. The countries contributing 100 per cent have received their "share" of refugees, according to this formula.

You can see the full list of calculations here.

Some countries stand out from the rest. Uganda received 45,000 per cent, or 450 times their "rightful share". After Uganda follows Sudan with 10,600 per cent and Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 6,200 per cent each. Except for Turkey, the top 20 countries on the list are in Asia and Africa.

Many wealthy nations have taken on very little responsibility. In Europe, the eastern European EU- countries score the lowest, with Slovakia and the Czech Republic at the bottom of the list, at 1.3 and 1.6 per cent, respectively. Poland follows with 2.3 per cent.
Tukey stands out in a positive way in Europe. They received 17 times more refugees than their GDP indicates, while Greece and Germany received 360 and 180 per cent of their shares. In 2017, Norway took in 40 per cent, as did France, Canada and Australia.

Japan has one of the strongest economies in the world. For many years, the country has been one of the biggest contributors to the UN's refugee work, but they have been very restrictive when it comes to receiving refugees. In 2017, they only received 94 refugees, or 0,04 per cent of their share based on GDP. China scores even lower with 0,02 per cent.

Several countries in South America have had strong economic development, but this is not reflected in an increased willingness to receive refugees. Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil all received one per cent or less of their shares. In comparison, the US received seven per cent.

Even though many people from Syria and Yemen have fled to Saudi Arabia and other rich nations in the Persian Gulf, few are registered as refugees. These countries have not ratified the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention, so people are not awarded refugee status. Displaced people are not guaranteed any rights guaranteed under the convention, such as the right to work, education and access to the legal system.

Refugee resettlement – for people who need protection in a third country

An elderly man who collapsed is carried to a medical facility as thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar sit along a muddy rice field after crossing the border near Palang Khali, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images An elderly man who collapsed is carried to a medical facility as thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar sit along a muddy rice field after crossing the border near Palang Khali, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

An elderly man who collapsed is carried to a medical facility as thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar sit along a muddy rice field after crossing the border near Palang Khali, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

An elderly man who collapsed is carried to a medical facility as thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar sit along a muddy rice field after crossing the border near Palang Khali, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Because only a few Asian and African countries are receiving a very large share of all the refugees in the world, we need to relieve these countries through resettlement. Resettlement refugees are refugees transferred to a third country through a UN deal because they cannot get help and protection where they are. The resettlement system is a good way for countries that aren't receiving many refugees, for example due to geography, to take on their share of the responsibility.

The resettlement system exists to protect vulnerable groups of refugees. For some refugees, like those who are stateless, persecuted on political grounds, or especially vulnerable children, it can be difficult to find protection in the country they first fled to. For example, some minorities are also persecuted in the countries they have fled to. Others have medical needs requiring them to get protection elsewhere.

For refugees who have been displaced for many years, and who cannot return home, sometimes the only opportunity for a dignified life is starting afresh in a new country. Both returning home and permanent integration into host countries are becoming increasingly difficult. Therefore, it is even more important that people are given the opportunity to relocate as resettlement refugees.

In total, 32 countries received resettlement refugees in 2017, but most of these have only accepted a token amount. While 189,000 people became resettlement refugees in 2016, the total dropped to 103,000 in 2017. The main cause behind the drop was that the US, who usually receive the highest number of resettlement refugees, reduced their share by two thirds after Donald Trump became president. In addition, Denmark, who previously took in many people relative to its population size, now refuses to receive any more. They claim to have received too many asylum seekers over recent years.

Wealthy nations must contribute

We have shown that most displaced people flee to impoverished neighbouring countries, while refugees are helped most effectively in their own region. Therefore, it is important that wealthy countries aid displaced people by providing economic support to the countries that receive them.

The UN indicated that they would need about

190 billion NOK

for their work in humanitarian crises in 2017. Only 60 per cent of this amount was contributed by donor countries.


The UN indicated that they would need about USD 23.6 billion for their work in humanitarian crises in 2017. Only 60 per cent of this amount was contributed by donor countries. If every country had contributed based on ability, the sums needed from each would be relatively low. To illustrate this point, the 2017 return on the Norwegian oil fund was almost six times higher than the world's UN- reported humanitarian needs.

Though most people, both now and in the future, will be helped most effectively in their neighbouring countries, it is crucial that wealthy countries share the responsibility. They can do this by providing protection in their own countries, both for resettlement refugees and individual asylum seekers. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 1.2 million refugees need to be resettled in a third country. This is less than two per cent of all the displaced people in the world. In recent years, as few as between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees have become resettlement refugees, a number that is way too low considering the need.

Instead, if the world had relocated 300,000 people as resettlement refugees each year, the number of people now waiting to be resettled would be in a safe third country within five to ten years. If more countries had participated, each country would receive a small number of refugees and solving the challenge would be possible. Countries receiving a very small number of people should contribute much more than they are now.

Rich countries like Canada, the US, Australia and the Nordics have received the highest number of resettlement refugees, but middle-income countries in Latin America also take part in the program. However, most receive very few people and many of the richest countries do not participate at all. If all rich and middle-income countries had contributed according to economic ability in the way Canada does, 1.3 million resettlement refugees would be relocated every year. So it is feasible to increase the number of resettlement refugees in the world to 300,000 per year.

A woman is supported by two men while crossing a river, as refugees attempt to reach Macedonia on a route that would bypass the border fence, on 14 March 2016. Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP/NTB Scanpix

A woman is supported by two men while crossing a river, as refugees attempt to reach Macedonia on a route that would bypass the border fence, on 14 March 2016. Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP/NTB Scanpix

Sharing the responsibility in Europe

Mediterranean Sea. Video: UNHCR

Mediterranean Sea. Video: UNHCR

When it comes to providing the necessary protection for displaced people all over the world, European countries are central. The EU organised the reception of refugees through the Dublin Regulation. So it is crucial that it facilitates the sharing of the responsibility between European countries for the agreement to survive.

The Dublin Regulation is an agreement between the EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It determines who is responsible for processing an application for asylum and providing protection to those who qualify for asylum. The main rule is that asylum seekers must be registered and processed in the first country they arrive in. In the latest version of the agreement, called Dublin III, there is no automatic mechanism of distributing refugees evenly between members.

Much of the responsibility falls on the countries lying on the outer border of the area regulated by the Dublin Regulation, such as Italy and Greece. As it now stands, these countries are responsible for providing protection to all asylum seekers arriving in Europe in any other way than by airplane.

But the principles of this agreement have not really been upheld for a long time. Up until the large flow of refugees entering Europe in 2015 and 2016, many of the EU's border states refrained from registering fingerprints to enable asylum seekers to travel on to other countries. Therefore, countries such as Sweden and Germany received the largest numbers of refugees, despite very few asylum seekers making it directly into these countries. This changed dramatically in 2016, when countries such as Italy and Greece were pressured into following the Dublin Regulation and registering refugees on arrival.

In addition, border controls were implemented in several EU countries to keep asylum seekers from traveling through Europe to countries further north. The consequences of these measures became apparent in 2017, when all the countries bordering the Mediterranean saw a significant increase in asylum applications, despite the fact that the total number of people arriving in Europe had halved.

To relieve Greece and Italy, the EU designed a new resettlement program where 160,000 asylum seekers from the two countries were redistributed to other EU countries over a two-year period. But when the program was ended in the autumn of 2017, only the better part of 30,000 asylum seekers had been redistributed. One reason for this was a powerful opposition from many countries objecting to being forced to receive refugees.

Now, the EU has no program to relocate refugees. And countries such as Greece and Italy are shouldering a large part of the European burden. The European Commission has realised that if we do not share the responsibility throughout Europe, the Schengen collaboration and the Dublin Regulation may be threated. They are working to ensure that Dublin IV, which is now being negotiated, should include a limit on how many asylum seekers one country should have to receive. The EU suggests that other member states must commit to receive asylum seekers from those member states receiving the most people, and that there should be economic penalties for the countries that refuse to participate.

There is great discord between different EU states in these matters. And there is a large divide between new members in the east, who do not wish to be forced to receive refugees, and the rest of the EU who are working for a more equal sharing of responsibility. Great Britain's decision to leave the EU has shaken the entire EU system, and many are worried about pushing through unpopular decisions, fearing that doing so could result in further destabilising the union.

Hopes for international commitment in 2018

In September 2016, world leaders met in New York to discuss the challenges connected to poor protection for refugees and migrants. At the time, there was increasing resistance towards refugees and migrants in many countries, but the result exceeded expectations. All 193 UN members agreed to "the New York Declaration." This committed each country to strengthening aid to refugees, contributing to increased and predictable economic support to host countries receiving large numbers of refugees, and to working for a better distribution of responsibility by relocating refugees as resettlement refugees.

In 2018, the declaration will result in a detailed plan for bettering the protection of refugees. The talks with every member country has begun. The goal is to commit everyone to sharing the responsibility equal to their ability.

The challenges are still many, but if there's a will, there's a way.