The Prosperity view from the Institute for Global Prosperity

Despite what many seem to think, Europe insulated from the crisis of mass displacement

 Large-scale displacement is one of today’s greatest challenges to global prosperity. While media attention in Europe and North America has largely focused on the arrival of refugees in Europe, what is often overlooked is that the majority of refugees – 86 percent – are in low and middle-income countries.

To make sure the countries that are most affected by mass displacement can still progress and offer hope for those who live there, communities, policymakers, and NGOs must urgently work together to develop new models of delivering prosperity.

As things stand, the British government has let in 20,000 Syrian refugees in 5 years. That is a tiny proportion of the population, and one that poses no serious threat to the national jobs market, or public services.

This is a stark comparison to Lebanon, the country with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. In Lebanon, 25% of residents are refugees. Imagine the strain this puts on the public services, and as a result the very foundation of society. Lebanon have committed to educating all the Syrian children they can, but no public service is designed to absorb such a huge jump in demand in such a short time. This leaves teachers over-worked and stressed in crowded classrooms. It creates social tensions and hostility between hosts and refugees. The fact that the conflict in Syria has now lasted for over six years also raises concerns about disruptions to refugees’ education, training, and working lives, which will have significant consequences for the reconstruction of Syria when the conflict ends.

Simply put, the change that a sudden 25% growth in population has imposed on Lebanese society is unimaginable to the UK, or any other wealthy country for that matter. In fact, it’s the equivalent of the UK having to host 16 million refugees. Or the whole of Europe hosting 185 million refugee. What problems would this create, and what would we have to do to deal with these problems in order to improve the quality of life for people? How, as a nation, would we need to think in order to make progress, and avoid such a challenge escalating into a crisis? Although this seems like the premise of a science fiction movie, countries such as Lebanon with far less resources than the UK are facing this challenge.

Uganda face a similar challenge, and have met it with more foresight and compassion than is thinkable in the European context. South Sudan is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. 1 million have already fled to Uganda, and at points last year, 2,000 people arrived per day - most of whom (85%) are women and children. Refugees are given relative freedom of movement, equal access to primary education, healthcare and other basic social services, and the right to work and own a business. Refugees are given shelter, and the tools to start growing food or start a business. The idea is that after a while, refugees will be independent again. However Uganda is overburdened – this is a resource intensive approach, but one that is designed to avoid the burden of a large destitute population.

To tackle this, we need a new vision of prosperity, and new economic and social models which make prosperity feasible. Those working to make things better must think about the most efficient way of improving standard of living in Lebanon, despite these challenges. Although the challenges in question are linked to insufficient funding for services and slow economic growth, solutions will not emerge from a narrow focus on economic growth alone. Prosperity is about more than just economic wealth; it also includes non-monetary forms of value such as skills and knowledge, wellbeing, social capital and capacity for entrepreneurship, all of which are key for improving people’s quality of life.