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Refugee crisis is bad in Europe, but worse elsewhere

Tracey Samuelson Sep 11, 2015
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Much of the coverage of the migrant crisis this summer has focused on the thousands now crossing into Europe. There are images of crammed railway stations and overcrowded refugee camps. Hungary’s prime minister today warned the country will arrest migrants who cross borders illegally next week. His country is building a fence along its Serbian border.

But this crisis is not merely a European one. Not even close. It’s the countries that share borders with Syria, more than four years into civil war, that are shouldering most of this burden. There are more than 4 million Syrian refugees, most of them in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. That’s just the number who have registered. In Lebanon, there’s now one refugee for every four people. 

He says these are not strong economies, says Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

These are countries with problems with unemployment, countries that in many cases need to build housing and infrastructure,” he says. 

Kemal Kirisci is director of the Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution. He visited Turkey and the Syrian border earlier this summer. He says you can see the strain.

“Everywhere. At road junctions, traffic lights, where [refugees are] trying to beg. You see the physical impact in the rise in renting accommodation. You see it physically in the fall of wages.” 

The situation is similar in Jordan, where schools are running in three different shifts to take on additional students, says Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute. She says the influx of refugees is taxing Jordan’s water supply. The International Monetary Fund estimates the government budgetary costs related to refugees is about 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. 

There are a lot of “guesstimates” when it comes to the economic impact of refugees, says Dilip Ratha, a migration economist at the World Bank. In the short term, he says it could be significant enough to lower GDP in some countries. For example, in Lebanon, if you wanted to provide refugees with the same per capita income of citizens, it would cost $12 billion a year. Lebanon’s GDP is $45 billion. But Ratha says that over the long term, refugees don’t have to be an expense.

Refugees are not like a commodity, these are people. They come with a lot of talent, resources, if not anything, at least labor supply.” If they’re allowed to work, Ratha says in a few years, the refugees could end up boosting their host countries’ growth. 

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