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Deeply Talks: What to Watch on Refugees and Migration in 2018

In our latest Deeply Talks, the Migration Policy Institute’s Kathleen Newland and Refugees Deeply’s Daniel Howden discuss some of the key issues they’re watching in a critical year ahead for refugees and migration.

Written by Charlotte Alfred Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
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Men prepare to distribute food aid from the World Food Programme at a warehouse at Bokolmanyo refugee camp in the Somali region of Ethiopia on December 19, 2017. ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images

Recent efforts to overhaul the world’s approach to refugees and migration will face some crucial tests in 2018.

Countries will negotiate two Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration by the U.N. summit in September. Several experiments to free refugees from aid dependency by enabling them to work desperately need to show results this year. Meanwhile, the pressure to send refugees home looks set to further test the principle that refugee returns should be voluntary.

In our latest Deeply Talks, Kathleen Newland, senior fellow and cofounder of the Migration Policy Institute, and Refugees Deeply senior editor Daniel Howden discussed some of the most promising ideas for reform, while offering a dose of reality over the economic and political obstacles that lie ahead.

On the Migration Compact, one practical way forward is mini-multilateralism – “building coalitions of interested parties, to take joint action on specific issues” – as Newland described in a recent piece for Refugees Deeply. These could range from uncontroversial areas such as expanding consular protection for migrants, to thornier issues such as sending migrants back to their countries.

Another idea for cooperation over migration is Global Skills Partnerships, in which countries cooperate to train potential migrants for the benefit of both their home and destination countries, as outlined in a recent article by economist Michael Clemens.

“It’s a great example of win-win situation in migration,” Newland said. “As with most proposals, the devil is in the details, as a lot depends on what the job market in the country of origin is like. Some countries complaining of brain drain of nurses provide such dreadful working conditions that they also have a lot of unemployed nurses because people just aren’t willing to work for salaries or conditions on offer.”

On the Refugee Compact, the initial or “zero” draft that was just released by the U.N. refugee agency, Newland said its model of integrating refugees into the workforce and education “is the only sustainable path for refugees in the long term.”

“Keeping refugees idle, out of the labor market and out of education, is the greatest waste of human resources you can imagine,” she said. Newland pointed to Turkey as a place to watch for its approach to refugee integration, while Refugees Deeply’s Howden highlighted efforts to apply the “compact model” – aid and loans in exchange for opening the labor market to refugees – in Ethiopia.

Yet with around half of Ethiopia’s refugee population under 18, investing in education will be just critical as building industrial parks, and shed light on whether “this is genuinely long-term thinking or a version of “you-host, I-pay,’” Howden noted.

Listen to the whole episode of Deeply Talks: Can 2018 Change the World for Refugees?

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