Humanitarian Empowerment Trumps Humanitarian Aid For Refugees

The uncontrollable and unpredictable outbursts of wars and terror attacks around the world continue to increase concerns on if stable peace is achievable. To an extent, peace can be attained but there is a need for sustainable approaches. The increase in mobility from conflict has resulted in the unwanted and untamable massive exodus of people from one continent to the other. These people have been referred to as refugees, asylum seekers, stateless people, beggars and migrants both by literates and illiterates. Since wars cannot be outrightly prevented, deliberate efforts should be made to manage the people who have migrated.

The United Nations, in all its efforts as a “mother” international organization, has carried out elaborate commendable actions by designating organs to promote peace via the support of refugees. There is no disregard for the outstanding humanitarian work done by other international non-governmental organizations such as Jesuit refugee, CARE, Danish Refugee Council, International Refugee Committee just to name a few. However, all these efforts have been largely classified under humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian aid, developed in 1859 by a Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, is defined by Takepart: “Humanitarian aid is given to meet the immediate needs of victims of disasters or violence. It can include food, water, medical supplies, tents, and other things required by those affected by everything from typhoons to civil wars.” On the other hand, humanitarian empowerment should become a new norm. “Empowerment means giving authority or power given to someone to do something. It can also imply the process of someone (people) becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” This concept entails the strengthening of the skills of refugees in host countries for them to fend for themselves.

In recent times, refugees are almost “spoon-fed” everything needed for their basic living. The only stress is to ensure they register and obtain an identification card. This, to an extent, has encouraged refugees to become lazy and to feel unproductive. In several cases, especially for the men, it has led to idleness and mental instability. This has indirectly affected women and young girls at the camps who have become victims of violence and abuse. Some men who cannot control their frustrations and adapt to the new changes in their lifestyles in the camps have become psychologically drained. This has also led to an increase in crime waves and sexual attacks on women. Additionally, why is it that all or most “empowerment” activities are targeted at supporting women? For example, in some camps, some aid organizations have introduced agriculture and needlework activities for women as a source of generating incomes for their families. Women are being encouraged to join such initiatives whether they have interests or not. Little or nothing is done related to assessing if they have the capacities or would excel in such programs. 

The support provided through necessities is commendable, but humanitarian efforts need to exceed expectations and current activities. Much work needs to be done towards creating opportunities where these people can use their potential and skills. In an estimate, 90% or more refugees had jobs or talents before they fled conflicts. Except for a few who might have become incapacitated because of the war, in most cases, these people can still contribute to their communities. Why are their skills not used? Why are they made to depend solely on aid?

Humanitarian aid has been a solution, but it doesn’t seem to be durable. In this regard, host countries need to evaluate their conditions for accepting refugees. They must promulgate laws or policies which ensure refugees can be treated as “temporal citizens.” That is, refugees can be given liberty, guided by the laws of the country, to exercise and use their skills. For example, in camps, there will most likely be a refugee who was a teacher in their home country. Why is such a person not allowed to teach and paid a minimal salary at the refugee schools in the camps? Why are some countries still insisting that only their citizens should teach even at camp schools? Hard questions with unclear answers.

Host countries should not solely consider supporting refugees by giving them land in the outskirts of their cities. They need and should be integrated into society as fellow humans. They should be given opportunities to create businesses for those who have knowledge and experience. On the flip side, everything interests and benefits they realize from such endeavours, it ends up boosting the economies of these host countries.

Finally, international and local organizations should focus their work on empowering both men and women to use their existing skills rather than forcing them to learn new skills. Their advocacy campaigns and lobbying should be geared towards creating more platforms for refugees to use their inert abilities. Talks and agreements with governments should be centered around encouraging governments to accept social and economic integration.

Sarah Namondo