Syrian Crisis Making UN Rethink Refugee Camps

Since the start of the Syrian conflict, 2.8 million registered refugees have fled the country and over four million have been displaced internally. With no end in sight, the United Nations has begun to rethink how to handle mass influxes of refugees in host countries.

Refugee camps have long been the main way international aid groups have sheltered people fleeing from conflicts around the world. However, this practice is being reconsidered by the UN, which hopes to place refugees in local communities as opposed to camps.

In camps, refugees often do not have the opportunity to work and are usually confined to restricted areas. However, when refugees are integrated into local communities, they are able to become more self-reliant and contribute to the local economy. This also allows the UN to utilize their funding on already existing communities, as opposed to building and maintaining brand new camps.

Although integration into local communities is preferred for refugees it is ultimately up to the host country–and many have been reluctant. Host countries often experience a drain in resources due to increases in refugee populations, fueling an increase in tensions between the two groups.

The UN hopes to convince host countries that they can benefit economically by allowing refugees to integrate. In addition to basic market advantages, host countries will also be eligible for Targeted Development Assistance (TDA).

TDA allows the UN as well as donor states (such as the United States) to specifically allocate monies to countries that host large refugee populations. The goal is to help host countries provide better security, medical assistance and supplies, as well as educational and vocational training within their existing communities. These services will not only benefit the refugees, but also the lives of the local populations.

A host country cannot be expected to bear the brunt of the refugee influx on its own. Furthermore, camp situations are often unable to provide anything beyond basic necessities, and do not allow refugees enough economic freedom to become more self-reliant. Because of this, international aid is used at a faster rate. As the world experiences a surge in refugees, rethinking how to provide a safe place for refugees while also considering the effects on local populations is essential in order to avoid the development of further conflict.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: IRIN, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times, UNHCR
Photo: IRIN