Generating Hope for Refugees

By Keating, Michael | The World Today, February/March 2015 | Go to article overview

Generating Hope for Refugees


Keating, Michael, The World Today


The Moving Energy Initiative aims to provide safe power for displaced people. Michael Keating explains how

The plight of Syrian refugees has vividly resurfaced in the international media with images of makeshift shelters in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and reports of refugee children living in sub-zero temperatures, without heat, clothes, food or water, some actually dying from the cold.

They are among the 3.2 million Syrians who have fled the conflict so far; the United Nations estimates that a further 7.6 million people are displaced within the country.

They join a rapidly increasing mass of people - between 50 and 60 million, over half under 18 years old - forcibly displaced by conflict, sudden disasters and gradual environmental change. More than half are displaced within their countries - 3 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.

Of those who cross borders, many make their way to camps, managed by local authorities with international support led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but as in Lebanon, more are either in informal settlements, or have sought refuge with local people.

Some 86 per cent of the world's refugees are living in developing countries. The communities that host refugees, whether in rural or peri-urban environments, are invariably poor, themselves living in marginal conditions. Their willingness to help people displaced by violence or disasters is quickly strained by the additional competition that incomers represent, increasing pressure on local services, the job market, the environment and on security.

Host governments are understandably anxious, wary of assuming a medium to long-term refugee presence, and sometimes even hostile to international actors having an operational role to respond to needs. Yet their capacity to protect refugees and provide for them can be very limited.

Escalating humanitarian needs and the inadequacy of the international response, whether in terms of raising funds, a willingness to take in refugees or to implement international humanitarian law, are growing concerns. ' A broken system for a broken people' was how one BBC headline recently put it.

Tolerance of conflict by states is often not matched by a willingness to share the burden of the humanitarian consequences. States neighbouring Syria are under enormous strain, socially, economically and politically. Aid provided by western countries is modest given the scale of the problem, and for domestic political reasons, these countries are increasingly reluctant to accept refugees.

The prospect of a radical revision in the global humanitarian system is dim, although the 2016 Global Humanitarian Forum should, in theory, present an opportunity to step back and consider alternative approaches.

In the meantime, the imperative is to improve the response both to the urgent and the longer-term needs of displaced people, whether they are registered refugees who have crossed international borders or internally displaced populations.

More than two thirds of the world's refugee population have been displaced for more than five years. The Dadaab camp in Kenya is almost 25 years old and many Palestinians have lived in camps for four generations. Long-term displacement tends to receive little attention but in many ways poses the greatest problem.

To address some of these issues, the Moving Energy Initiative is being launched in early 2015, supported by Britain's Department for International Development. Incubated by Chatham House and the Global Village Energy Project, and backed by a consortium that includes UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council, the initiative's objective is to use renewable and sustainable energy as a starting point for upgrading the international response to the needs of displaced people, to reduce costs, and to bring benefits both to them and, eventually, to host populations. …

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