‘Home, sweet Home’ in Africa? The quest to keep refugees ‘out’…

65 million people are forcibly displaced. 15 million of these people are staying in African refugee camps, allegedly waiting to start their journey to Europe. Not something the majority of Europeans are looking forward to. So, how are we going to deal with this problem?

On the first day of the ICYA (International Conference for Youth in Agriculture) in Leuven, Bob Pleysier presented his answer to the refugee crisis: ‘Dorotea’. The main message: if we do not want Africans to come to Europe, we should bring Europe to Africa!

Playsier preached the need to design and implement a city in Africa where displaced people can build a new life. A beautiful dream.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe in fairy tales. I believe complex problems need complex solutions. Just building a utopian city somewhere in Africa does not solve anything. Especially not when the city is designed by Western people who have never been to Africa before.

Although I am skeptical about project Dorotea for a lot of reasons, I agree that instead of building short-term refugee camps, we should invest in building more self-sustainable settlements. As Kilian Kleinschmidt (ex-UNHCR) said: “Governments should stop thinking about refugee camps as temporary places. Refugee camps are the cities of tomorrow”. While he meant that negatively, I would recommend to at least enable refugee communities to become more self-sustained within a camp.

That is possible: Refugee camps already transform into cities, designed by the refugees themselves. While trying to make a living, they open little shops and restaurants or creating gardens. Click here to get an impression.

Yet the question remains:  is turning refugee camps into cities alongside a so-called humanitarian border the right solution? Maybe we should try to look at refugees as a benefit instead of a burden. As Kilian Kleinschmidt suggests, we could also repopulate abandoned parts of Spain and Italy.

In any case, we should not only focus on providing short-term aid but start promoting sustainable development and conflict resolution for long-term solutions. Especially if we would like to limit migration flows towards Europe. Refugees are not interested in living in camps, but in building a future.

Blogpost by Melissa de Raaij, #ICYA2017 Social Reporter – melissaderaaij@gmail.com

Image: The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, courtesy U.S. Department of State.

This post is part of the live coverage during the #ICYA2017 – The International Conference for Youth in Agriculture, organised by IAAS (The International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences).  

This post is written by one of our social reporters, as part of their training on social reporting, and represents the author’s views only.

The #ICYA2017 social reporting project is supported by GFAR, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research.