The Ten Complications of the Refugee Situation

Figure 11.1 plots the ten main issues relating to the refugee situation across the Refugee

Journey. It also associates the problem with the affected party who most experiences the negative consequence of the problem. The affected party is either the individual asylum seeker or the country (and their residents) who are attempting to help.



Disruptive causes and unprotected Forcibly Displaced People


  1. The number of Forcibly Displaced People is large and is growing.
  2. People are harmed due to grave risks taken in an attempt to improve their prospects.
  3. Government policies and resultant asylum seeker behaviour divert finite resources from improving the plight of refugees.


Temporary Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees


  1. Temporary protection standards are inconsistent across regions and sometimes breach individual human rights.
  2. Refugee numbers are much larger than what developed countries have previously been willing to accept and resettle.
  3. The burdens borne by countries of asylum are inconsistent and sometimes overwhelming.
  4. Many people with no refugee claim attempt to utilise the asylum seeker avenue to enter a developed nation.
  5. The UNHCR budget has increased exponentially over the past 30 years and continues to grow.


Durable Solutions and permanently protected people


  1. The average time spent waiting in limbo as a refugee for a durable solution is very long.
  2. Western nations with large cultural diversity are experiencing increasing incidents of intolerance.





Fig 11.1 > Ten Complications of the Refugee Situation.




STEP 1 ISSUES: No Protection


  1. Large and growing number of Forcibly Displaced People.


With the inclusion of IDPs, the number of Forcibly Displaced People (59.5 million as at the end of 2014) is the largest of any time since World War II. These are people in desperate situations. Unfortunately, even this number is likely to be an understatement as many vulnerable people are likely to be hidden through discouragement of their situation and will only present themselves if and when more viable options are provided.


In addition to the current numbers of Forcibly Displaced People, the future need is quite likely to be greater still. Alarmingly, the countries that are most likely to produce refugees are growing the fastest. Of the top ten Countries of Origin of Forcibly Displaced People, eight of them have TFR of four or more against a global average of 2.4.


  1. People harmed due to grave risks taken to improve prospects.


A large and growing number of Forcibly Displaced People are harmed due to great risks taken in attempting to reach the developed world to improve their prospects. Some of these risks are taken in the immediate need to get to an area of safety and protection. Others are taken in the hope of improving one’s prospects given the discrepancies between locations regarding the protection provided and the probability of a desirable durable solution.


The risks taken by an increasing number of people include dangerous sea voyages such as the crossing the Mediterranean Sea (about 3,000 deaths in the first nine months of 2015) or the Indian Ocean to Christmas Island and Australia (964 deaths between 2001 and 2012). Many more are saved through expensive rescue efforts. Desperate people are also often compelled to place great trust in people smugglers, which could possibly lead to theft, extortion and even enforced servitude.


  1. Government policies and resultant asylum seeker behaviour divert finite resources from improving the plight of refugees.


Deterrence measures such as Australia’s boat turn-back policy and the newly constructed fences in Europe increase the danger for people attempting to make asylum claims. While they help to maintain control of inflows of asylum seekers to specific countries, these policies lengthen the period of vulnerability and the risk of disaster for the impacted asylum seekers. These policies are an inefficient use of resources as they divert monies and efforts from supporting asylum seekers.


Some asylum seekers now apply for asylum in multiple countries hoping to maximise their chances of being accepted in one and, if fortunate enough to be accepted by more than one country, choose the best country for their needs. Cases have also been found where the same person, after being denied asylum in one country changed their identity (including their nationality) and presented in a different country. While this is rational and understandable behaviour for a person desperate to improve their prospects of a better life, it diverts resources from a more efficient use as the same people are being processed by multiple bureaucracies.


STEP 2 ISSUES: Temporary Protection


  1. Temporary protection standards are inconsistent across regions and sometimes breach individual human rights.


The quality of life as well as the prospects and wait for a favourable durable solution vary enormously according to the location of a refugee. For example, a refugee in Australia on a Bridging Visa has relatively large benefits and support in comparison to a refugee in a Kenyan camp. Such differences occur due to the relative wealth of the host country as well as the number of refugees they are attempting to protect. In addition to the quality of life experienced as a refugee, the prospects for a durable solution also differ. For example, the chance for resettlement to a developed country is much higher for the refugee in Australia on a Bridging Visa than that for the refugee in Kenya.


Other differences arise due to government policy rather than wealth or refugee numbers. For example, in order to deter asylum seekers from making dangerous sea voyages and risking death at sea, Australia’s Humanitarian Program breaches international covenants including the Refugee Convention. This breach is at least in spirit if not technically. Australia’s program seems to be at least partially based on a deterrence motive. These breaches include incorrectly turning away legitimate asylum seekers through high-level enhanced screening, and arbitrarily detaining asylum seekers, including children.


Finally many nations, including India, Malaysia and Indonesia, are simply not signatories of the Refugee Convention so do not provide any guarantees to a minimum standard of protection. In addition, whether they are signatories or not, some countries through factors including poverty, disorder or corruption, just don’t provide adequate support or justice for asylum seekers and refugees. One would expect the experience of asylum seekers and refugees in such countries to be far worse than those within ordered countries that adhere to the Refugee Convention.


  1. Refugee numbers are much larger than previously accepted.


Since World War II there have been numerous occasions of mass movements of refugees. The largest of these was the movement of ten million East Pakistanis (now Bangladeshis) into India during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence. Outside of this, no other movement above five million refugees has occurred. These numbers are far less than the mid-2015 count of 15.1 million refugees within the 59.5 million Forcibly Displaced People.


The ability of developed nations to house, process and absorb such large numbers is untested. Beyond the issue of the current volume of refugees or IDPs is the possibility these numbers will increase. If the demographic trajectory of both the developed intake nations and the Countries of Origin remain unchanged, the population of intake countries will be increasingly dwarfed by the population of the outflow countries. International agreements such as the Refugee Convention do not address the possible consequences of overwhelming populations of vulnerable people.


  1. Inconsistent and overwhelming country burdens.


Asylum seeker and refugee numbers are borne unevenly across countries of asylum. This inconsistency of burden is driven by factors including a country’s proximity to refugee Countries of Origin, the country’s prospects for a favourable refugee outcome, and their policies around deterrence. The most burdened Country of First Asylum is Lebanon where almost one fifth of the current inhabitants are refugees. The most burdened Country of Second Asylum is Germany, which in 2015 accepted about one million asylum seekers (over 1% of its total population) from regions as far off as the Middle East and North Africa.


Such large intakes, especially in the Countries of First Asylum, have negative consequences. The presence of asylum seekers threaten the immediate peace as often fighting follows refugees, especially if the country neighbours a state in conflict. The economic stability of an intake country is threatened through the financial cost of housing and feeding so many people as well as the potential impacts on the labour market if refugees enter the black market as cheap labour in order to earn money. The social stability is also threatened through large pressures resulting from great influxes of people. These pressures are potentially heightened with cultural differences that may invoke fear, some likely unwarranted and xenophobic and others likely to be rational. The uncapped obligation of the Refugee Convention provides little protection or guidance regarding overwhelming asylum seeker inflows.


Although Australia’s voluntary Resettlement of Refugees is one of the largest in the world, its intake of Onshore refugees is comparatively low. By this measure, Australia could do more if it was to contribute in line with its relative wealth. In 2014, Australia housed approximately 36,000 refugees (approximately 0.15% of its population). Although a greater proportion than the US and close to the proportion of the UK, this proportion is far less than many other wealthy nations. For instance, Canada houses 0.42% of its population in refugees, France 0.39%, and Sweden 1.45%.


  1. Many people with no refugee claim attempt to utilise the asylum seeker avenue to enter a developed nation.


Many economic migrants attempt to utilise the asylum seeker pathway. The factors driving migration from the developing to the developed world are at an all-time high. The population of the developing world includes over 3.5 billion with an average GNI of less than US$4,000. These countries, particularly within Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, continue to grow much faster than developed nations. The increasing availability and usefulness of the internet to potential migrants, and the diaspora of emigrants within the developed world, lower the fears associated with movement more than ever before. Although most developed nations have increased the barriers for migration into their countries, the asylum seeker path provides an alternate pathway into the developed world.


Economic migrants, although not technically refugees, are rationally motivated to improve their quality of life by moving to a country with more wealth and prospects. In early 2016, EU officials revealed that at least 60 percent of people who arrived in the EU as asylum seekers in 2015 were economic migrants. A high prevalence of migrants adds cost and complexity to the Refugee Status Determination process. Additionally, a substantial proportion of those determined to not be refugees do not consequently leave the country. Indeed, in many cases the countries they left are less than willing to accept their return, an example occurring in December 2015 where the Pakistan government refused 31 of 50 deportees from Greece as they were “unverified”2 . There may be multiple reasons why the Countries of Origin refuse to re-admit a failed asylum seeker. One reason is financial. Remittance payments from expatriates living in the developed world provide more to the

GDP of many poor countries than foreign aid.


Not all illegal entrants are economic migrants and some unfortunately have militant intentions. The European experience of 2015 highlights that providing open pathways for asylum seekers into a developed nation results in large influxes of refugees and migrants. The large numbers arriving in Europe, coupled with the limitations in coordinating the screening of many people across the various countries of Europe (where internal movement is allowed), resulted in limited control and identification of the entrants. This lack of control risks the entry of those with criminal or terrorist intentions. Providing such open pathways appears to have allowed the re-entry into Europe of some of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks of November 2015.


  1. Exponential increase in the UNHCR budget.


The annual budget of the UNHCR has grown exponentially since the 1950s. The budget grew from US$300,000 at its inception in 1951, to half a billion in 1980, one billion in the 1990s, over 3 billion in 2010 and over 6 billion in 2014. In addition to the growing number of Forcibly Displaced People, this increase is also due to its expanded scope. This expanded scope, including camp management and asylum seeker assessment (RSD), has been taken on to fill the gaps not fulfilled by the supporting countries. Even with an expansion in budget, the UNHCR services are stretched across the globe, limiting the availability of such services like RSD. This expanding budget requires donor nations to continually contribute more, in addition to providing their own support to asylum seekers and refugees. The provision of such donations is not limitless.


STEP 3 ISSUES: Permanent Protection


  1. Average waiting time is very long.


The average waiting times for refugees is very long due to limitations with each of the three durable solutions. Although difficult to calculate, the average wait appears to be well over ten years and potentially growing. The number of refugees in 2014 (14.4 million) was over fifty times the number of durable solutions provided that year (264,100). The long wait time is driven from the limited number of places provided by each of the three durable solutions. During their wait refugees are generally living in temporary accommodation, have little access to work, and have no certainty of their future.


  1. Voluntary Repatriation has had limited success.

Voluntary Repatriation is viewed as the durable solution with the largest volume potential. However, it has had limited long-term success, often resulting in a repeat of the forcible displacement. The issues limiting the success of previous repatriation attempts relate to the disputes over vacated property, pressures regarding limited resources and jobs, and community grievances. Community grievances can arise when returning refugees are provided with benefits that those who remained at home (often enduring hardship) are not provided. They may also arise when it seems that perpetrators of crimes prior to the forcible displacement are seemingly unpunished and free within the rehabilitating country.


  1. Local integration increasingly resisted by host countries.

Host nations are less willing to locally integrate refugees due to three key drivers:

  1. Real and perceived security threats from refugees bringing the security issues of the country they are fleeing with them;
  2. Real and perceived economic and environmental burdens through competition for scarce resources and infrastructure; and
  3. Poorly managed expectations as to the number and length of stay of the refugees. Resentments often arise once it is understood the stay will be permanent or when many more refugees than expected arrive.


  1. Resettlement places cater for <1% of the refugee population.

Voluntary Resettlement is now undertaken by almost thirty countries but the annual number accepted is vastly inadequate. Although very successful in offering a permanent solution to those it helps, Resettlement caters for only 10% of the identified candidates. This is less than one percent of the total number of refugees. Even including the additional Resettlement placements offered by countries such as Australia, Canada and the US in 2015 following the Syrian crisis, it is still well short of the total number of refugees. Mandating quotas on nations to resettle refugees would increase the number resettled but would impinge on national sovereignty, as well as exposing nations to potential disruptions in harmony as well as social and economic stability. Any quota system is unlikely to truly accommodate all relevant variables regarding the prosperity of a nation.


  1. Western nations with large cultural diversity are experiencing increasing incidents of intolerance.


Western nations have never been more culturally diverse. With this increase in diversity is a correlation (not necessarily causation) of intolerance. Examples of intolerance include the perpetuation or increase of voluntary segregation, the rise of anti-immigration nationalist parties, the rise of home-grown terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, and increasing distrust between cultural groups. Chief among the concerns of the secular Western nations is the compatibility of Islamic cultures and the growing Muslim population. European leaders have declared multiculturalism as dead, yet the number of immigrants (including refugees) from Islamic countries is continuing at high levels.