The Struggle to Accommodate Refugees in the Global South

The nations accommodating the unprecedented number of refugees in the world do not possess the resources required to adequately meet the challenge before them. The host countries of refugees face a monumental task, no matter their circumstances. Migrant networks share information about modes of transportation and border-permeability. This allows ethnic and religious communities to reunite, even after forceful displacement from their countries of origin. Once refugee communities begin to coalesce in new cities, those cities are ethically obligated to attend to the needs of the displaced population that they are now accommodating. Federal governments may develop systems to distribute these communities to different cities throughout a nation in the face of a substantial influx, but this tests cities’ public infrastructure in cases of unprecedented numbers or extended duration. Destination cities for refugees are obligated to provide vocational training, labor market integration, social housing, security for such housing, language courses, health services, and supplemental programming such as athletic and cultural events. The strain that accommodating these needs puts a government under depends on the capabilities of that government.

Meeting these needs constitutes an enormous task for any city, but this challenge is especially pronounced for governments in the Global South. While Western nations are entangled in policy debates concerning how many refugees they should allow across their borders and how to properly integrate refugee communities into society, nations of the Global South struggle to muster the financial means to materially support refugees already within their borders. Nations in the Global North have the luxury to debate their moral imperative to support refugees. Nations of the Global South are not afforded such a choice. Countries of the subaltern, meaning those pushed to the social, economic, and political periphery in postcolonial theory, already spurned by global economic systems, presently support a disproportionate portion of the global refugee population. The number of refugees in the world has increased exponentially during the 21st century, rising from 21.2 million in 2000 to 40.8 million in 2015. The weight of this substantial increase in refugees rests squarely upon the back of the already strained governments of the Global South, with the Database for Institutional Comparisons in Europe reporting that the Global South currently hosts “86 percent of all the refugees registered worldwide and 99 percent of all internally displaced persons.” The approximately 35,000,000 refugees currently accommodated by nations in the Global South mark a stark contrast to the 50,000 refugees that Donald Trump mandated be allowed to enter the United States, the lowest number since 1986. The restricted resources commanded by governments of the Global South result in initiatives that often focus solely on the immediate needs of refugees, ignoring factors that are key to fostering long term stability. It is important to explore and understand the struggles that governments of the Global South face when accommodating refugees in order formulate the policy options available to them.


Context: Refugee Support in the Global North

The intense fiscal challenge of supporting refugees is best illustrated by an examination of the systems used by Western nations, such as Germany, to properly support their refugee population. The German model of refugee accommodation is highly bureaucratic, which, although providing some of the most comprehensive care for refugees, also comes with high administrative costs. This intense institutional support relies on Germany’s economic strength and rigorous tax structure, thus inhibiting nations of the Global South from replicating the system. Germany became an ersatz-haven for Syrian refugees in 2015 after invoking the “sovereignty clause” of the European Union’s 2013 Dublin Regulation (Regulation No. 604/2013, Dublin III Regulation) to opt out of relocating asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU. This was enacted to ease the challenges that accommodating the influx of Syrian refugees placed on EU border nations such as Greece and Italy.

Germany’s economic strength allows it to finance multiple levels of government agencies responsible for supporting its refugee population. Upon arrival, Germany’s Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge) allots refugees to different states, and then municipalities, depending on the local tax revenue and population. State governments cover the costs of schooling, initial registration, and the creation of reception centers. Municipal governments provide for long-term housing, health care, and integration measures. This spurred some municipalities to create their own further municipal offices to attend to such needs, such as Freiburg’s “Office of Migration and Integration” (Amt für Migration und Integration), which handles issues such as social welfare, volunteer coordination, and labor market integration. Immediately after applying for asylum in Germany, refugees are issued identification paperwork (Aufenhaltsgestattung), and receive social housing, government welfare, and employment assistance while their

The number of Asylum-Seeker welfare recipients per 1,000 inhabitants, demonstrating the strength of the German government support system. From the Brookings Institution.

application are processed. During their first months after arrival, refugees live in a reception center where food and clothing is provided for, and they receive an additional roughly €150 per month for living expenses. Soon after, refugees move into social housing (Wohnnheime) with social workers on site, and can receive roughly €350 per month to cover all of their living expenses. If their application for asylum is accepted, Germany issues refugees a residence permit (Aufenhaltserlaubnis), allowing refugees to continue to receive government welfare funds for more than a year. Even if a refugee’s application for asylum is rejected, Germany does not deport them from the country. Instead, refugees receive toleration papers (Duldung) that allow them to remain in the country, still residing in social housing and receiving welfare funds, but for a more limited amount of time. This highly bureaucratic system adeptly attends to the needs of refugees arriving in Germany, yet it relies on strong federal and local governments supported by an impressive economy. This model of refugee accommodation cannot be replicated by countries of the Global South that do not have the same immense resources at their disposal, and thus a different approach is necessary.

Iraq: Supporting Internally Displaced Persons while in Conflict

The challenges that Iraq’s government faces diverge sharply from those supported by the well-funded German system, with the colossal challenge of supporting an internally displaced population resulting from decades of conflict and exacerbated by the emergence of Daesh in recent years.  Iraq’s history with internally displaced persons (IDPs) can be divided into three separate phases. Phase One encompasses the roughly 1.2 million people displaced by nearly four decades of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq. Beginning as early as 1974, Hussein engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing and intentional displacement that was primarily enacted against the Kurdish population in the country’s north and the Marsh Arabs in the country’s south, in an attempt to homogenize and Arabize the nation. Phase Two of Iraq’s IDP struggle coincides with the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Hussein’s departure from power. During this time, the American invasion displaced 200,000 new Iraqis, while another 500,000 simultaneously returned to their former homes following the end of Hussein’s rule. The majority of new IDPs created during this phase resulted from the sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008, ignited by the bombing of the sacred Shi’a Two Askari Imams in Samara. Retributive violence against Sunni Muslims increased the number of new Iraqis displaced during the second phase to 1.6 million people by the middle of 2008. After this new swath of sectarian-provoked displacements, the International Organization for Migration estimated that the total number of IDPs in Iraq reached 2.8 million. Finally, Phase Three of displacement in Iraq began with the fall of Fallujah to Daesh in 2014 that displaced more than half a million people in Iraq’s Anbar province, after which the number of IDPs skyrocketed due to the prolonged conflict with the terrorist organization. That same year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that Iraq suffered the greatest number of new displacements in the world, with at least 2.2 million new displaced persons. The crisis has not relented in recent years, with the current IDPs numbering 3.2 million Iraqis, roughly one in ten people in the nation. The number of IDPs in Iraq reached an all-time high around June 30th, 2017, as the military effort to retake the city of Mosul in the Ninewa province concluded. More than one million people were displaced in the Ninewa province in total, and the same number of people in the Mosul area were estimated to be inaccessible to humanitarian aid. The Iraqi government is ill-equipped to support such a large internally displaced population while simultaneously fighting Daesh.

During the summer of 2017, an amalgamated 7.3 million people in Iraq were vulnerable and in need of required assistance across the country. Currently, in the Salahuddin province, municipal authorities have evicted nearly 600 families of Daesh militants from their homes. Despite condemnations from Iraqi politicians across the country, the policies of the Salahuddin province only exacerbate the problem of IDPS within their own country. Children comprise half of the recently expanded displaced population, with more than half a million forced to miss more than a year of education as a result of their displacement. In refugee camps, a scant 50 percent of children are attending school, and that number drops to 30 percent outside of refugee camps. In 2015, only 9 percent of Iraqi IDPs lived in refugee camps in Iraq, with between 60 and 90 percent living in private accommodations such as rented rooms and host families, and the rest in critical shelter arrangements such as former schools and hospitals. The large population of IDPs in Iraq living in private accommodations is characteristic of the distinctly different struggle of refugees in the Global South, for this population faces eviction if they are unable to pay for their accommodations. The Iraqi government attempts to mitigate the costs of such accommodations, providing an initial cash payment of 1 million Iraqi dinars (approximately $850) for each displaced family. However, this amount can only cover the cost of a meager few weeks of food and shelter, and this hardship is intensified by the fact that 40 percent of the new IDPs in Iraq have not received this payment. A large amount of the IDPs moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, due to the region’s more stable economy and a history of accepting religious minorities, causing the population of the region to swell by 30 percent. This unprecedented increase in population puts host families under intense strain, leading to negative coping mechanisms such as child labor and early marriages. The tenuous status of IDPs in Iraq and the lack of reliable infrastructure to support the displaced community resulted in a paucity of necessary health care resources, culminating in a cholera outbreak that pervaded 15 of the 18 governorates in 2015. The protracted nature of conflict in Iraq destroyed local infrastructure and created successive waves of IDPs that the state government is unable to adequately support.

The displaced persons of Iraq who fled the country overwhelmingly reside in other nations of the Global South that have similarly scarce means of supporting them. In 2008, there were roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, 500,000 in Jordan, and 250,000 more in other countries. Syria was the primary destination for Iraqi refugees due to its close geographic proximity, which allowed Shi’a Iraqis to avoid the majority-Sunni Anbar province when fleeing sectarian violence after 2006. Furthermore, the Syrian government allowed Arab nationals, including Iraqis, three months’ stay without documentation, during which time they could apply for residence permits. Syria, as a whole, had a history of accepting the Shi’a population and had a more established health and education infrastructure. Syria also possessed a larger informal economy than other destinations, which afforded greater work opportunities to displaced Iraqis. But as civil conflict flared in Syria, the Iraqi refugee population was displaced once again, with the UNHCR reporting only 44,000 Iraqi refugees still in Syria as of 2013.

In Jordan, the 500,000 Iraqi refugees face an even more difficult struggle to achieve legally recognized residency. The two most common ways of attaining stable status in Jordan are to either receive a residency permit (iqama) or a work contract. Yet to receive a residency permit in 2003, Iraqi refugees were required to deposit $150,000 into a Jordanian bank account. Although this amount was later lowered to $20,000, only 25,000 Iraqi refugees acquired a residency permit by 2011. Attaining a work contract is an even more arduous process, as it requires mobilizing significant social capital (wasta) such as familial and political connections, such that only 2,000 Iraqis have received work contracts. These struggles resulted in 80 percent of the wealthiest bracket of Iraqis receiving residency permits, as opposed to 22 percent of the poorest bracket, further stratifying an already divided community. Between the conflict in Syria and a regressive residency system in Jordan, the governments of the Global South are ill-equipped to accommodate the refugee populations that they are forced to support.

The government of Iraq is unable to support the vast internally displaced population within its borders due to the ramifications of decades of conflict, such as eroded public infrastructure, significant brain-drain, and inadequate documentation. The capacity of the state in Iraq has been under assault since the time of Saddam Hussein, who expelled all non-Ba’athist government officials. This problem was further aggravated by the de-Ba’athification enacted by the American government after its ouster of Hussein that removed most remaining experienced government officials from power, compounded by American efforts undertaken to decentralize the Iraqi government. During this time, opportunistic militias emerged and seized the assets of institutions and extorted the local population. As these militias looted both hospitals and universities, the system of rentierism that had prevailed under Hussein collapsed, leaving the government unable to repair the devastated public infrastructure. What remains of the oil industry that previously supported the government is wrought with rampant corruption, further hampering state capabilities. The middle class of Iraq is disappearing, resulting from hyperinflation and targeted attacks. In 2007, a New York Times report expounded that 26 out of 30 students surveyed at the University of Baghdad intended to leave the country to start their careers. The militias took advantage of the state’s weakness and specifically targeted the middle class for kidnappings, believing that they would be more able to pay a ransom. In 2006, there were more than 30 kidnappings a day in Baghdad, and the majority of those targeted were academics, lawyers, and media professionals. The shrinking intellectual community and middle class in Iraq poses a direct threat to state capabilities in the future, for it is this population’s skills and tax dollars that are key to rebuilding a stable state. The health infrastructure in the country is similarly eviscerated, with many hospitals ransacked indiscriminately. The Iraqi Red Crescent reported that more than half of the nation’s doctors fled the country between 2003 and 2007.

Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq, as of June 2015, demonstrating the scale of the internally displaced population Iraq is supporting while still in conflict. From the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

Daesh’s rise both contributed to the further destruction of state infrastructure, and prevented the repair of infrastructure previously damaged in sectarian violence. What remains of the state operates on a basis of innate discrimination, with the occupying Kurdish forces in Ninewa and Diyala preventing Sunni Arabs from returning to their homes. In Baghdad, security forces are equally suspicious of Sunni Muslims and even ignore crimes perpetrated against them. According to victims’ reports, Sunni homes have been burned, and eight Sunni men were blindfolded and executed behind a school in 2015 without any official investigation. Even when operating as intended, the government faces the obstacle of a dearth of documentation among IDPs, which prevents IDPs from utilizing what services do exist. The Iraqi legislation (Resolution No. 36, 1994) guarantees and protects citizens’ right to their property, yet without any documentation verifying their right to their property, IDPs may be unable to reclaim their homes. Government policies that diverge from the priorities of IDPs exacerbate this problem. While the International Organization for Migration reports that 87 percent of IDPs experiencing extended displacement hope to integrate in the communities that they were displaced to, government policy offers better financial support for IDPs returning to their homes and de-registering as IDPs. Thus, due to its lack of financial means, collapsing social infrastructure, and improper policy priorities and implementation, the Iraqi government requires new policy options to adequately support its internally displaced population.


Syria: Unprecedented Scale

Governments accommodating the Syrian refugee population face a struggle that similarly diverges from those faced by Western governments, due to the enormity of the displaced population in need of assistance. Currently, more than half of Syrians are displaced. The displaced population consists of 6,300,000 IDPs within Syria and 5,500,000 refugees who fled the country. Of the refugee population, one million have applied for asylum in Europe, with the two largest host nations, Germany and Sweden, respectively receiving 300,000 and 100,000 applications for asylum. Yet, the number of refugees in Germany and Sweden combined is still less than the number of refugees hosted individually by Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan.

Displacement in Syria began with a drought that lasted from 2006 to 2010. According to Francesca de Chatel in Middle Eastern Studies, “the government’s failure to respond to the ensuing humanitarian crisis…formed one of the triggers of the uprising, feeding a discontent that had long been simmering in rural areas.” Fifty years of poor water management combined with aggressive agricultural development efforts plunged the northeast region into poverty as groundwater reserves emptied. Syria suffered drought during almost half of those fifty years. This drought caused 800,000 people to lose their jobs, sparking widespread displacement. The drought also heightened the pressure on the central government and exacerbated pre-existing tensions. In 2011, civil war broke out after the Syrian public learned of the government’s torture of peaceful protesters and Syrian government forces responded to massive protests by laying siege to Dara’a. As opposition forces dissolved into hundreds of groups, the constantly shifting frontlines of battle displaced constantly growing segments of the local population. The civil conflict lengthened and was complicated by the emergence of Daesh and the fracturing of opposition forces. As a result, repeated displacements became commonplace, with some refugees forcefully displaced up to 25 times before they could finally find refuge. Due to the devastated social services and quickly depleted personal resources, displaced persons entered into a destructive pattern of cyclical displacement, forcing refugees to rely entirely on scarce international aid. Refugees are sheltered in woefully inadequate camps, where the International Displacement Monitoring Center reports that “fifty-seven per cent of collective centres do not have sufficient water, 50 per cent lack sufficient sanitation facilities, and 54 per cent are overcrowded.” Early in the conflict, restrictions prevented external humanitarian access. Even now, it is difficult to obtain reliable data due to intentional inaccuracies from Syrian authorities, contrasting figures from independent sources, and vast areas controlled by violent insurgents where data collection is impossible. This lack of reliable information is especially pronounced for the population of ar Raqqa, where military operations to liberate the city from Daesh control have recently concluded. The population of ar Raqqa, however, is in critical need of help. More than half of the city’s population was displaced and the majority of the city was destroyed by the relentless shelling of American and Syrian forces. The size and extent of conflict in Syria has created the largest humanitarian crisis of our time, with governments of the Global South supporting the majority of the refugees created by the conflict.

The Syrian refugee population in other countries of the region has tested government institutions within the Global South. An examination of these governments’ successes and failures to provide services is essential to recommending the best policy options for the future. In Jordan, official numbers report around 650,000 Syrian refugees reside. This number is likely incomplete, for King Abdullah II declared at the Plenary Session of the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly that Syrian refugees compose 20 percent of Jordan’s population. Syrian refugees in Jordan utilize health services at a high rate and, when combined with the number of refugees in the country, Jordan’s public health infrastructure is under dangerous duress. A survey by UNHCR found that 86.6 percent of families who needed health care in the month prior to their survey sought care. The high cost of these health services, however, inhibits some refugees from utilizing them. Further refugees are precluded from receiving the care they need after the government of Jordan responded to the heightened pressure on their health infrastructure by terminating free access to health services for refugees in 2014. The switch to subsidized health services in Jordan has contributed to the deterioration of the economic status of refugees in Jordan. This results from inadequate international support for the Jordanian government, for while supporting a refugee population that accounts for 20 percent of their population, the Jordanian government has footed the $53 million bill for refugee care, while only $5 million in support was provided by UN agencies. The congestion of health facilities became a source of social tension in Jordan, with 60 percent of Jordanians and 39 percent of Syrians reporting it as the main source of tensions between the groups. This overcrowding is exemplified by the situation in the Mafaq Government Hospital in close proximity to the Za’atari refugee camp, wherein of the 16 neonatal incubators, 12 are used by Syrian refugees, two are used by Jordanians, and the final two are used other foreign nationals. Such struggles make it clear that Jordan’s current policies are inadequate to support the large number of Syrian refugees within the nation.

In Lebanon, the situation of Syrian refugees is similarly fragile. Official numbers report 1 million Syrian refugees in the country, yet the number could be as high as 1.5 million. The small nation is struggling to support the refugee population it now hosts. The nation suffers from a marked decline in trade and tourism due to the Syrian conflict, with its national debt totaling 141 percent of GDP in 2013, and annual GDP growth plummeting from 10 percent in 2010 to 1 percent in 2014. Rent in the country skyrocketed due to limited supply and increased demand from the refugee population, causing a 44 percent increase in rent between 2012 and 2013. This increase in rent has proven catastrophic for both Syrian refugees and poor Lebanese. Within the refugee population, roughly one third do not have the proper documentation to stay in the country, and 92 percent are working on the black market, subject to exploitative underpay and devoid of state regulated labor protections. The Lebanese government uses the financial support it does receive “to directly provide immediate needs to the affected populations, contributing to their dependency and not using their inherent capacities,” according to scholars in the Risk Management and Health care Policy journal. This further prolongs the damaging circumstances for refugees by offering no mode of exit. By failing to offer opportunities for refugees to secure upward mobility, Lebanon’s policies fail to adequately address the problems refugees face.

In Turkey, close proximity and positive border policies have contributed to the formation of the largest Syrian refugee population, numbering approximately 3,250,000. The undocumented incorporation of Syrian laborers into the Turkish economy has forced refugees into chronic poverty, putting them in an acutely precarious position with ever decreasing means of returning home. Despite collaborative efforts by the Turkish government and the European Commission, Syrian refugees living in Turkey are not offered the capability to support themselves. The support provided by the European Neighborhood Policy intends to assuage migration into the European Union, but this results in international support operating on skewed priorities. There are efforts to house Syrian refugees within Turkey, yet there is a paucity of adequate efforts to legitimately integrate these refugees into the Turkish economy.

Information insecurity is widespread throughout the Syrian refugee populations in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The International Red Crescent administers a phone calling program in refugee camps that it operates in, allowing refugees a three minute call home every two weeks, but these services are underutilized due to the necessity of NGO supervision and the limitations imposed on topic of conversation. Refugees thus resort to alternative practices to mitigate their informational insecurity, such as calling home on private cellphones to verify any information from news sources. Problematically, practices such as this incur new costs for refugees, such as the need for a SIM card from the country they are residing in as well as one from Syria, and payments to marketplace vendors to charge their phone or download an app. The lack of reliable sources of information for refugees forces them to expend limited financial resource.

In summation, the Syrian refugee community demonstrates concerning signs of chronic poverty due to their protracted displacement. Endemic indebtedness and asset selling signifies decreasing welfare and inhibits long-term self-reliance. Given the overtaxed governments of the Global South’s dearth of fiscal means, policies priorities must be developed to enable limited government resources to better support the Syrian refugee community, so that refugees are not compelled to engage in activities such as under the table labor to offset medical and housing expenses.

The Rohingya: Little Hope to Return Home

The government of Bangladesh faces a unique challenge as it struggles to support the displaced Rohingya population of Myanmar, given this population’s diminished possibility of ever returning to their homes in Myanmar. Myanmar is 90 percent Buddhist, with small Muslim and Christian minority populations numbering roughly 4 percent each. The majority of the Muslim Rohingya minority community resides in the northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, yet they are the subjects of a targeted, intentional displacement campaign by Burmese authorities. This state is one of the poorest and least literate in the country, with the Rohingya Muslim community therein facing institutionalized discrimination such as restricted movement and limited access to education.

The state justifies its discrimination against the Rohingya community by propagating the false narrative that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from the Myanmar’s majority Muslim neighbor, Bangladesh. Since the 1990s, extremist and ultra-nationalists Buddhist organizations, such as the Organization for the Protection of Race (MaBaTha), have spread hateful propaganda against the Rohingya and the Muslim community in Myanmar as a whole. These groups portray the Rohingya as a “threat to race and religion” who threaten to destroy the Burmese “Buddhist state.” Even politicians in Myanmar have mobilized hate against the Rohingya population to garner support, with one politician in 2015 calling for his cheering crowd to “kill and bury” all Rohingya.

The greatest threat to the Rohingya population of Myanmar is the government enacted displacement campaign that UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Government forces, primarily the military (known as the Tatmadaw) and the Border Guard Police Force of Myanmar (BGP), have undertaken extensive “area clearing operations,” which became especially egregious following attacks perpetrated by Rohingya militants’ on security forces on August 25, 2017, which killed 12 members of the security forces. These forced displacements are undertaken on the premise that the Rohingya villagers are hiding or supporting members of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, a small rebel group that has fought for Rohingya rights since the 1980s. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that local Buddhist villagers have been given military uniforms and armaments to assist in the brutal forceful displacement of Rohingya Villagers. It is also common place for local Buddhist Rakhine villagers to participate in the looting of villages, as well as the beating and sexual assault of Rohingya villagers. It is hypothesized that these civilians are a part of the Burmese “969 movement” which opposes the expansion of Islam into Myanmar. As a result of such forced displacement efforts, more than 1,200,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, paying smugglers and boatmen exorbitant fees, or holding on to plastic gasoline containers and attempting to float across the border if they cannot afford the price of a boat. These refugees have been subjected to some of the most heinous violations of human rights and dignity of our time at the hands policies officially sanctioned by the Government of Myanmar.

The actions taken by the Tatmadaw and BGP to forcefully displace the Rohingya population make it clear that the Rohingya population’s return to Myanmar is impossible without total regime change. The Tatmadaw locks down villages prior to clearing them, preventing villagers from leaving for up to ten days, thus closing off all access to food and forcing the local population into starvation. Once the actual clearing is underway, the atrocities escalate. Men are killed indiscriminately, beaten, and shot at close range. Grenades and random gunfire are used to torment the local population, and helicopters are often used to drop grenades and fire on civilians. Rohingya refugees report the military using long butchering knives to cut the throats of elderly relatives attempting to flee. Widespread reports tell of houses set on fire with families still inside of them, villagers pushed back into burning houses, and grass set alight around Rohingya villagers who have been beaten.  Rocket propelled grenade launchers are widely used to set homes on fire. Social and religious leaders have been the targets of forced disappearances, and are suspected to have been killed. Children are similarly attacked, with reports of babies being stabbed to death with knives and newborn children being stomped to death with heavy military boots. One woman recounts how her baby was torn from her arms and thrown into a fire, after which she and her two sisters were raped, with her two sisters murdered and her mother and 10-year-old brother shot. The majority of women interviewed in an OHCHR report experienced sexual violence, with instances of gang rape being reported by the majority of the victims. The women and girls who are the victims of such sexual violence do not have access to medical services in the northern Rakhine State, due to a dearth of doctors, high health care costs, and the social stigma tied to the sexual violence they have experienced. The material situation of the Rohingya population is being intentionally, irreparably eroded by government forces. Elderly members of the population report being beaten and then forced to give their personal belongings to Buddhist Rakhine villagers. In locked-down areas, schools and mosques are occupied by security forces. Food and cooking utensils such as pots and pans are destroyed, and livestock is killed to destroy potential food sources for any surviving villagers. Religious violence, such as the forced shaving and burning of the beards of religious leaders, is prevalent. Holy Qurans have been desecrated and burnt in public spaces. Women and girls have been deliberately raped inside of mosques. The intentionality of the government of Myanmar is clear, given that humanitarian aid is banned inside the Rakhine state. These atrocities are perpetrated before the Rohingya population leaves their own borders, which is exceedingly difficult to do as the journey to Bangladesh costs roughly $120 and a significant portion of the local population lives on less than $1 per day. These numerous atrocities leave the Rohingya population a nearly stateless people, compounding the difficulties for the large Rohingya refugee community living in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh faces a challenge that differs from those faced by most Western nations, for the refugee population it is accommodating is unlikely to ever return home. Thus, in addition to supporting the refugee population, Bangladesh must develop a plan for the Rohingya population’s future in the nation. The Burmese Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister cited the nation’s Natural Disaster Management Law to argue that any burnt land becomes the government’s land, thus robbing Rohingya refugees whose homes were burned by the Tatmadaw and BGP of their property in Myanmar. Official figures from the government of Myanmar report that of the nation’s 471 Muslim villages, 176 have been entirely vacated, with more than 7,000 homes burned down. The Rohingya forcefully displaced by these actions walk up to 14 days to reach Bangladesh, and the sanctuary they find there is piecemeal. The government of Bangladesh relies heavily on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support the Rohingya refugee population, with the Bangladeshi Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission providing derisory support such as basic first aid and water stations for new arrivals. The Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh arrive in Cox’s Bazar, which is one of Bangladesh’s poorest districts, with 33 percent of the population living beneath the poverty line. The refugees fleeing violence following the August 25th incident often bring few possessions with them, and exhaust what savings they do have to travel to Bangladesh and construct rudimentary shelters made of bamboo and thin plastic once they arrive. This forces Rohingya refugees that have recently arrived in Bangladesh to rely exclusively on government and humanitarian aid for subsistence. Already strained prior to August 25th, institutional support in Bangladesh fails to keep pace with the rapidly growing Rohingya refugee population following the Tatmadaw’s intensified village clearing operations. The majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh live in makeshift settlements and spontaneous settlements, such as sprawling tent cities. This lack of adequate accommodations is a self-perpetuating problems, for the vast makeshift communities are not conducive to developing infrastructure, such as clean water and food distribution sites. While new refugee sites are constantly being planned to accommodate the influx, refugees arrive to new sites before any humanitarian support infrastructure is established, and a critical lack of roads within these new sites inhibits the construction of such infrastructure.  Refugees react to the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities by resorting to drinking stagnant water from nearby paddy fields. Humanitarian interventions primarily target refugee camps and makeshift communities, yet the United Nations Development Programme reports that before August 25th, 76 percent of refugees in camps and makeshift communities had no access to clean drinking water. This number rises to 92 percent in host communities, due to the lack of humanitarian assistance. Such precarious conditions leave the population severely vulnerable to a diarrheal epidemic. A lack of space for health and sanitation facilities in makeshift settlements is an acute problem. Women and girls among the Rohingya refugees, who constitute 65 percent of all new arrivals following August 25th, are especially vulnerable. The lack of sanitation facilities forces many refugees to bathe and defecate in the open. This causes women and girls to combat the lack of proper sanitation facilities by limiting the amount they eat and drink, and by rarely leaving shelters during their menstrual cycles in order to preserve their privacy. Children represent a large portion of the refugee population, and more than 400,000 Rohingya children do not have access to education. Child labor is becoming more prevalent due to the dire conditions refugees face. Such insufficient accommodations clearly demonstrates that the Rohingya population in Bangladesh requires more proficient aid efforts.

International aid works to offset the duress that the government of Bangladesh is subjected to, yet such efforts are not entirely successful. Aid is constrained by the lengthy process that obtaining approval for humanitarian projects entails. The government of Bangladesh is inundated with project approval (FD-7) requests, and does not have the capacity to respond to them quickly enough. More than 80,000 refugees did not receive their full food rations due to this lengthy and time-consuming application process. In October, 2017, twice as many government counterparts applying to provide water, sanitation, and hygiene resources awaited clearance paperwork than received it. The United Nation’s priorities include the installation of shelter, water, and sanitation facilities, such as well and latrines. The United Nations also hopes to strengthen the capacities of local communities, but aiding local communities in accommodating refugees is not synonymous with providing refugees the means to succeed within such communities. Both the United Nations and the government of Bangladesh foresee the repatriation of Rohingya refugees as the solution to the crisis. Yet while the United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Mr. Volker Türk, discussed facilitating the voluntary and sustainable repatriation of refugees with state officials in Myanmar, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network reports that there is “a growing realization that repatriation is unlikely in the short-term.” The government of Bangladesh and international nongovernmental organizations must recognize that the Rohingya population’s stay in Bangladesh is unlikely to be brief, and develop policy options that respond accordingly.

Bangladesh’s infrastructure is subjected to such strain because Rohingya refugees have few options but to relocate to Bangladesh. Other neighboring nations in the Global South, such as Thailand, have enacted policies mandating that the boats of Rohingya refugees be pushed back away from their shores, fearing that they could not handle an influx of refugees. Thai efforts to eliminate people-smuggling have also created further problems for Rohingya refugees, for smugglers now abandon

A small sample of the total number of Rohingya villages destroyed by government forces in Myanmar, demonstrating the implausibility of Rohingya repatriation. From the Myanmar Information Management Unit.

boatloads of people at sea. Even if the Rohingya in Bangladesh desired to return to Myanmar, security forces have laid landmines along the border to Bangladesh, inhibiting the return of refugees. Within Myanmar, the displaced population is not supported, but instead imprisoned. The official government spokesperson Zaw Htay expounds that the camps where the displaced Rohingya reside are actually “for Bengalis,” thus supporting the government narrative that all Rohingya in Myanmar are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The camps in the Rakhine State are far from adequate refugee camps, likened to “open-air prisons” by commentators as they are little more than areas surrounded by barbed wire and security forces to confine the detainees. The government of Myanmar’s rejection of aid agencies prevents any support that might allow the refugee population to regain self-sufficiency, demonstrating that it has no intention of ever allowing a Rohingya population in the country again. While refugees’ stays in Western nations are often confined to the duration of conflicts in their nations of origin, the Rohingya population’s eventual withdrawal from states in the Global South such as Bangladesh is unlikely. Efforts that allow Rohingya to succeed in their new communities must be planned in response.

Policy Discussion

There are clear disparities in the challenges faced by governments in the Global North and Global South when supporting refugee populations, thus necessitating the advancement of new policy priorities for governments of the Global South. Raphi Rechitsky of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies elucidates that governments of the Global North often invoke policies that deter refugees from reaching their borders and therefore confine refugees to the Global South. This puts governments of the Global South under increased strain when attempting to accommodate the refugee populations they host with already limited resources. The divide is most prominent when comparing the singular $850 initial cash payment that the Iraqi government gives to each internally displaced family to the more than €5,000 euros that refugees can receive in Germany over the course of 15 months. While refugees living in Jordan combat information insecurity by paying market vendors to charge their mobile phones, the ‘taschengeld’ given to refugees in Germany can be used to pay for mobile phone services. Feasible policy options must be developed for governments of the Global South such as Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Bangladesh that currently support significant refugee populations. If these governments solely focus on providing for the immediate needs of refugees without providing means of status improvement, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. Successful refugee support in the Global South requires identifying clearly delineated and achievable policy goals so that governments can focus their limited capabilities where they will be most impactful.

One of these crucial policy goals for supporting refugees in the Global South is providing opportunities for upward mobility. This is attainable through a commitment to education, labor market integration, and cash assistance programs.

Education is crucial to giving refugees opportunities to find employment in the local economy of their host country, as well as providing better opportunities for voluntary repatriation in the future. Education also can help mitigate the effects of displacement on refugee children, providing an increased likelihood of stability in their countries of origin after repatriation. The Sri Lankan refugee population living in India has found exceptional success after they lobbied the Indian government to allow them to attend public schooling even without documentation from their schools at home. The Sri Lankan refugees also organized their own higher education and vocational schooling programs. The upwards mobility that this schooling provides helps to allow refugees to overcome the psychological ramification of their protracted displacement. One key component of such upward mobility is offering education in the local language of refugees’ host nations. Proficiency in the local language drastically improves refugees’ labor market access, allowing them to better provide for themselves in the long term. Education also alleviates the burden on local governments by enabling upward mobility, combatting both the material and psychological ramifications of forced displacement.

Prioritizing cash assistance programs enable an increased concentration on the needs of each individual refugee. In Lebanon, each dollar of cash assistance spent by Syrian refugees resulted in $2.13 created in the local economy. When combined with access to bank accounts, cash assistance provides greatly increased stability in the lives of refugees. Paul Spiegel of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees writes that “cash assistance has the potential to transform aid effectiveness, support local economies, improve relations between refugee and host communities, and provide more choice and dignity.” In isolation, cash assistance programs only succeed in reducing the risk of poverty for refugees, but do not eliminate the risk of poverty in the future. When combined with other enablers of upward mobility, however, cash assistance can make a difference. Education, labor market integration, and cash assistance programs are all components of a broader prioritization of enabling refugees’ upward mobility that should be a focus of governments in the Global South.

Creating sustainable health care systems is the second policy goal necessary for governments of the Global South supporting refugee populations. The eroding capabilities of states’ health infrastructures poses an acute risk to human security. A widespread respect for refugees’ right to health is critical to protecting human security, which includes actively removing barriers to refugees’ health care access, such as cost. Instead of adhering to a single parallel program of health services, nations of the Global South must prioritize developing migrant sensitive health services. Migrant sensitive health services entail accounting for the unique health needs of the disparate refugee populations that nations accommodate. Even in areas still embroiled in conflict, where state governments have little capacity to support their internally displaced populations, humanitarian and government efforts are best served by identifying populations’ precise needs. This allows the resources mobilized to create the largest impact possible. Adequately adapting existing health services to the needs of specific populations necessitates broader public health assessments. Thereby, services offered align with the needs of the populations that they are serving. Health care can also provide a form of cursory documentation that can be key to allowing refugees to utilize greater segments of the services available. While Syrian refugees utilize health services at high rates, it must be destigmatized for the victims of sexual violence within the Rohingya refugee population. If differences in health seeking are identified by public health assessments, services that specifically accounting for such differences can be offered. Such services may include offering intercultural mediation and building health literacy. Initial health screenings are often lauded as essential to refugee health, yet the epidemiological vulnerability of populations must first be accounted for. If populations are sufficiently vaccinated and at low risk of communicable disease, resources used for health screenings are better spent improving living conditions. While Jordan’s initial health screenings of Syrian refugees diagnosed Tuberculosis at an incredibly high success rate before the disease could spread to larger segments of the population, health services must not be limited to health assessments. Such health screenings are key to reducing the strain on local health institutions in populations at specific risk of communicable diseases, yet health care must go beyond initial screenings by offer treatment for diseases and injuries identified in such screenings. The emphasis on initial health screenings dominates discussions of refugee health, problematically enabling governments to lackadaisically attend to refugee health needs by singularly providing such screenings. Wider public health assessments allowing for the more educated coordination of humanitarian actors, preventing oversights that result from an ad hoc approach to refugee health care. When screenings are necessary, they must holistically address the needs of refugee communities, including providing psychosocial services and care for noncommunicable diseases. Expending resources to improve refugees’ living conditions can dramatically reduce the strain on health care systems in the Global South, for a lack of clean drinking water and adequate shelter in refugee accommodations are notable sources of refugees’ health instability. Creating health care systems that can endure the strain of large refugee populations and protracted displacements must be a specific policy goal for governments of the Global South, and is achievable by assessing the unique needs of refugee communities and preventing the causes of health insecurity.

Finally, government leaders in the Global South must create sufficient institutional support for refugees in the key areas of combatting human trafficking, providing reliable information systems and forms of documentation, and providing support for voluntary repatriation.

One key areas of institutional support is the fight against human smuggling, although policy responses must be carefully designed so that they do not exacerbate problems for refugees. Often, victims of human trafficking who have been forced into sex-work are deported back to their countries of origin. As previously discussed, current initiatives fail to protect the refugee populations exploited by trafficking networks. Instead of focusing on the results of human trafficking such as sex work, law enforcement agencies must focus on preventing the networks that force refugees into this situation in the first place. Furthermore, corruption must be combatted, for reports of police warning community leaders before raids and traffickers bribing police illustrate the threat that corruption poses to anti-trafficking efforts. Within legal structures, policies that stratify the victims of human trafficking into separate categories can result in institutions only focusing on the victims whose situation they deem more egregious, resulting in institutions overlooking victims of labor trafficking in favor of aiding the victims of sex trafficking. The rights of all victims must be prioritized, including efforts to protect victims’ identities, and the provision of additional support to victims post liberation. One major component of preventing human trafficking is educating refugees and government agents alike on the rights that are endowed to refugees.

The institutional support of refugees also entails maintaining reliable information systems. Refugees in poverty should not be forced to expend what little financial resources they have to obtain reliable information through expensive phone calls home or hard-to-find internet access. In addition, the majority of refugees lack official documentation verifying their identity, education level, employment history, and even country of origin. Governments of the Global South must prioritize providing such documentation to refugees so that they are not precluded from accessing the services available to them. Such documentation is also key to enabling entrance to the local labor market, which promotes self-sufficiency within refugee populations. Where possible, governments of the Global South must also mobilize legal aid to give refugees adequate asylum support. Without achieving the administrative classification of “refugee status,” refugees are left open to deportation, prevented from working, and may even be inhibited from accessing health care services.

Once conflicts pacify in refugees’ countries of origin, repatriation support must be offered for refugees who choose voluntary repatriation. While refugees’ intent to repatriate is debated, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reports that “Voluntary repatriation…is the solution of choice for a vast majority of refugees.” Indeed, between 19998 and 2008 fourteen times as many refugees chose repatriation over permanent resettlement in their host countries. The United Nations designates four key areas of focus necessary to ensuring repatriation success, including physical safety, legal safety, material safety, and reconciliation. The word “voluntary” is crucial to successful repatriation, and to make a fully informed and uncoerced choice, refugees require information on their home countries, legal aid, and peace and reconciliation efforts in their home countries. The choice to repatriate must be fully agentive. In the past, Bangladesh has avoided accusations of refoulment, or forcefully returning refugees to their countries of origin, by withdrawing food rations from refugees, thereby replacing their agency to choose to repatriate with necessity.  Successful repatriation support further entails ensuring a source of livelihood through labor market access in refugees’ country of return, as often their home governments provide little support. Governments must also ensure that refugees can attain equal citizenship status in their home countries, with respect to the differences between their culture and the predominant culture in their home nations. The protection of refugee rights, provision of reliable information systems and adequate documentation, and attention given to asylum and repatriation support can all work to minimize the strain on governments of the Global South.




As has been argued, the governments of the Global South face challenges that can confound even Western governments. These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that 86 percent of refugees and 99 percent of internally displaced persons remain within the Global South. This dichotomy between challenge and resources necessitates the creation of policy goals that appropriately respond to the struggles that governments of the Global South face in supporting their refugee populations. Iraq is supporting a vast internally displaced population while simultaneously rebuilding state institutions and combatting active conflict. The governments of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are supporting the largest refugee population in the world, with a Syrian refugee population numbering upwards of five million. Bangladesh must prepare to accommodate the Rohingya refugee population that is unlikely to ever return to Myanmar. To successfully support these and other refugee populations in the Global South, local governments must focus their efforts on providing means of upward mobility, sustainable health care services, and institutional support in critical areas. By adopting these clear policy goals, governments in the Global South will be able to utilize their limited resources where they will be most effective, thereby creating the greatest positive effect for the refugee populations that they support.  

Andrew Fallone

About Andrew Fallone

Andrew is the Marketing Director for the World Mind, as well as a contributing editor, and a staff writer for the Asia column. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he is in D.C. pursuing degrees in International Relations and German. He is currently interning with the Embassy of the Principality of Liechtenstein.