Bridging the humanitarian versus development divide
International Trade Centre (ITC) Executive Director Arancha González today called for the international community to break down the silos separating humanitarian aid and economic development assistance, to help refugees and other displaced people gain marketable skills and experiences they could eventually take home or to their new countries.
Speaking at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, she noted that the refugee and migrant crises in the Mediterranean and elsewhere have multiple causes. For many irregular migrants, it is primarily a lack of economic opportunities at home that pushes them to make the potentially dangerous journey abroad. Emergency aid to save lives must be accompanied by efforts to build lasting economic and social resilience, she said.
The worldwide number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people (who are still within the borders of their country of origin) is estimated at around 60 million, greater than the population of Italy.
Outlining how governments, international agencies, and non-governmental organizations could cooperate for maximum effect over the long term, González said ‘the humanitarian response clearly comes first. We need to prevent conflict. We need to focus on saving lives in immediate danger and providing affected populations with the relief they need’.
‘Once situations become more protracted, however, the traditional humanitarian toolkit, starts showing many limitations,’ she said. ‘After the initial crisis phase, livelihoods, societies, and economies need to be pieced back together.’
Changing realities for refugees demanded a new approach, she suggested. With the average stay in a refugee camp now at 17 years, denying individuals the right to work, or training them in skills for which there is limited market demand, runs the risk of ‘creating generations of people who are not aware of what it means to work for a living’.
What is needed, González said, is to create market-driven income opportunities for different groups of vulnerable people, whether refugees and internally displaced people or returning migrants, to enable them to develop useful skills and earn meaningful livelihoods. Scalability and sustainability relies on aligning market demand with beneficiaries’ productive potential. Achieving such alignment, in turn, requires international and domestic actors to bridge the traditional ‘humanitarian versus development’ divide.
She spoke about ITC’s work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to demonstrate how trade could help create sustainable livelihood opportunities even in displacement settings.
In Turkey and Lebanon, for example, ITC skills audits and market analysis suggest that developing the home decor, furniture and carpet sectors could generate export-linked economic opportunities both for locals and for refugees who have fled from neighbouring Syria’s civil war.
At the Dadaab camp in Kenya for refugees from nearby Somalia, ITC and the NRC are implementing a pilot project that links inhabitants of the 24-year-old camp to internet-enabled jobs doing basic data entry, photo identification and document formatting work for Nairobi-based firms in the business process outsourcing sector. ‘The grandchildren of Somali goat herders fleeing violence at home can have a shot at thriving in the digital economy,’ she said.
González emphasized the importance – politically and morally – of creating opportunities for host community nationals alongside displaced people, by bolstering the international competitiveness of local businesses and entrepreneurs.
In addition, the ITC head called for addressing the ‘socioeconomic root causes’ of economic migration, since many irregular migrants leave their places of origin simply ‘because they cannot make a decent living at home’. Targeted interventions can create entrepreneurial opportunities and increase the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), giving potential or returning migrants additional reasons to stay. She pointed to ongoing ITC efforts to encourage trade-linked job growth in post-conflict – and more recently, Ebola-affected – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
González acknowledged that socioeconomic development would not fully stop irregular migration to richer countries, saying ‘mobility is inherent to human beings’.
‘But we can and must address the causes that lead millions to risk their lives and that of their children in search for livelihoods,’ she concluded.
Read Arancha González’s speech in full.