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Op-ed: Countries Least Able to Are Shouldering the Refugee Burden

By Global Development Solutions

The issue of refugees has become a regular part of our daily news diet. We are bombarded with everything from separation of children from their parents in the United States, to Germany’s coalition government under threat over refugee integration, to the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), there are an estimated 22 million refugees around the world today. Listening to the news, we are often left with the impression that the United States and European countries are leading the charge in absorbing refugees into their respective countries, which in turn is contributing to the uptick in socio-political friction that seems to be driving nationalist, anti-immigrant political movements on both sides of the Atlantic. But which countries are truly shouldering the refugee burden?

Surprisingly, countries about which we often hear negative news stories have shown the greatest empathy, at least toward allowing refugees into their country. For example, Jordan and Lebanon combined have taken in nearly 26 percent of the world’s refugees, despite the fact that Jordan has a per-capita GDP of only $4,088 compared to the United States, which has a per-capita GDP of $57,467 and has received only 1.2 percent of the world’s refugees.

A woman holds a child at the Za’atri refugee camp in December 2012 in Jordan, which is home to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the ongoing civil war there. (UN Photo / Mark Garten)

Moreover, Lebanon — a small and already crowded country with a per-capita GDP of $7,914 and a population density of 596 people per square kilometer — has taken nearly 1.3 million refugees into the country. This stands in stark contrast to France — with a population density of 119 people per square kilometer and a per-capita GDP of $36,855 — which has taken in a mere 1.4 percent of the world’s refugees (refer to the diagram below).

While industrialized countries fuss over perceived national security threats and the fear of having to give up their way of life, countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (and many other developing countries) have forged ahead and absorbed refugees, viewing them not so much as a threat, but increasingly as an opportunity where the skills and knowledge they bring can help accelerate economic growth.

As long as the world continues to express differences in beliefs about politics, religion and tribal loyalties through violence, the flow of refugees will continue and countries will need to devise integrative solutions for dealing with the refugee influx. Mass migration and refugee integration are not only problems left solely to politicians to solve, but issues in which the private sector can take leadership, most directly by working with governments and NGOs to integrate refugees into the productive labor force.

The United States and the European Union are homes to the largest corporations in the world, employing millions of workers in their respective countries where refugees can be integrated directly into their own facilities or indirectly through their global supply chains.

For example, companies in the U.S. imported $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services from around the world in 2017, of which approximately $219 billion was imported from developing countries or countries in transition, including island economies. This amount is nearly twice the value of the combined GDP of Jordan and Lebanon. Companies can make a difference by leveraging their purchasing power through their global supply chain network to help integrate refugees into the workforce, particularly in economies of countries that are shouldering the burden of the world’s refugees. 

Global Development Solutions LLC offers supply chain integration solutions around the world, particularly in developing countries and countries in transition, to help companies improve the efficiency of sourcing goods and services, while having sustainable socio-economic impact in their sourcing countries.




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