Humanitarian Costs Rise As Refugee Crisis Becomes The New Normal
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A European leader says it is time for the world to think differently about refugees. Kristalina Georgieva is vice president of the European Union. She has spent years focusing on a series of crises that have left the world with some 60 million refugees.
VICE PRES KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: It used to be that you have a problem; people flee. And then it gets sorted out, and then they come back. It used to be that humanitarian crises were local affairs and temporary. Now they are global.
INSKEEP: And they last. The European vice president spoke shortly before President Obama's visit to Europe this week. She says there is a bottom line for European nations now absorbing millions of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere. Many simply will not return.
GEORGIEVA: Well, We still hope that many of them would be able to go home. And actually, when you talk to refugees - And I have talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of families - They are always dreaming that the moment would come for the conflict to end and for them to go home. But once you settle down somewhere, your children are in school, find a job - Then the probability to go back goes down. The more years you are displaced, the less likely it would be that you might go home.
And in meanwhile, the hosting community has to cope. It has to be helped to have the schools and the cleanings and the housing and the roads and most importantly, the jobs for these people. When you give jobs to people in a place where there is high unemployment, you have to be thinking hard how not to create a pushback factor with the local community.
So this is why humanitarian action and the broad development, they have to go hand in hand because if you help only the refugees and you do not support the local communities, you might actually create a very difficult political environment for the refugees to be accepted.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about the part of the world that has even more refugees, the countries directly bordering Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan. Have they come around to your way of thinking and concluded that they are now going to be dealing with millions of refugees forever, or for a very long time?
GEORGIEVA: They have recognized that. This is not an easy act, to retain the support of your local people and at the same time help the refugees, not easy at all. So what is the answer here? It is for the rest of the world to be much more generous towards countries that are receiving refugees - Because they are like a buffer for the rest of us. It is much cheaper to help a family in Jordan or in Lebanon or in Turkey than to help the same family when they come to Europe. And it is more likely they may go home when they are closer to home.
INSKEEP: I think I hear you sympathizing just a bit with Lebanese or Turkish politicians because they face local resistance to refugees. And they have to ask, how can I help these people without doing so much that I lose my job, that I'm thrown from power?
GEORGIEVA: I do have sympathy for them. I have been in communities where local people would say, look, wages have gone down since the refugees arrived. Rent has gone up. It is really difficult for us. You are helping them, but you also have to be helping us.
And I take this to mean that the international community has to think of supporting refugees but also the overall development process in countries that are hugely important for the stability in the world because they are hosting millions of refugees.
INSKEEP: This finally raises the question of people who are refugees within Syria - Internally displaced, millions of them. How effective have humanitarian agencies been at helping them?
GEORGIEVA: They have been reaching out to people but not everywhere and not all the time. Even in a war, there has to be space for humanity. Humanitarian actors should be allowed to deliver help everywhere.
INSKEEP: How much have aid agencies been forced to collaborate with the government of Bashar al-Assad?
GEORGIEVA: They have to work with the government, of course, because many of the people in need are in government-controlled territories. Some of them...
INSKEEP: Do they end up getting used then?
GEORGIEVA: Some of them - I would think of, say, ICRC, the Red Cross. They have been very prudent in retaining their presence in everywhere, talking to everybody. And actually, this is an advantage. When you can talk to everybody, you have a chance to help. What has changed so dramatically is that we now have groups that are not fighting to become governments.
It's actually much better when the bad guys actually want, one day, to be recognized as good guys. By the way, also, there are so many governments that they are the problem. They are the bad guys, for sure. I do not want to ever see ourselves asking the humanitarian organizations to be those that are responsible for the political solutions of problems.
INSKEEP: Sure, you wouldn't want that. But think about this for a moment. This is my question. Do aid agencies get into a position where they're effectively supporting the government of Assad because Assad's government will let aid get to places that they control and where they like the people and maybe will make it difficult and, in fact, have made it - Has made it difficult to get aid to places where they don't like the people?
GEORGIEVA: The U.N. And the humanitarian organizations have always insisted that convoys have to go in government-controlled areas and in areas not controlled by the government.
INSKEEP: But that's taken a lot of negotiation at best.
GEORGIEVA: It has taken a lot of negotiations. And of course, it is horrible that the government would feel comfortable to let its own people die by not letting help get to them. But the principle of access to everybody in need, the humanitarian community has defended. I wouldn't put the blame on them. I would put it on the rest of us.
The fact that the Security Council, the international community, has taken so long to unite around the inevitable objective of putting an end to the war in Syria - thank God this is now, finally happening. But why did we have to see 300,000 people die before we were to come to that conclusion that the only viable solution is peace?
INSKEEP: Kristalina Georgieva, thank you very much.
GEORGIEVA: Thank you.
INSKEEP: She is European Union vice president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.