The world has the resources and capabilities to provide for the housing, energy, water, and other needs of refugees, but lacks the financing tools to develop these solutions, according to Kilian Kleinschmidt, founder of the Innovation and Planning Agency and former senior field coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Mr. Kleinschmidt, who formerly ran the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, said humanitarian agencies should look at refugee camps as living spaces, or temporary cities, where change and the evolution of people can take place. However, he noted that it’s not up to refugee agencies themselves to bring in that change.
“Humanitarian agencies are there to do first aid, to save lives in the beginning, but then, immediately we have to look into real investments into those countries so that they’re actually capable of absorbing so many people,” he said.
“All of these countries have not seen sufficient investment into jobs, into energy, into water, which are big issues in some countries such a Jordan, for instance. “We haven’t seen anything significant happening, any significant change besides some small token donations to the local populations.”
Speaking to Nadia Mughal of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, Mr. Kleinschmidt said there are urgent requirements to invent and develop financing tools, and tools to ensure investments.
“If we overcome it, we can see a very rapid deployment of these resources, which need a little bit of backup,” he said.
This discussion was part of a series of interviews done on the margins of ICM’s sixth retreat, on forced displacement, refugees, and migration, held on July 10-11.
Listen to the interview:
UNHCR recently announced that the number of Syrian refugees is now more than 4 million in neighboring countries, and 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced. You formally ran the Zaatari camp for UNHCR in Jordan. Can you talk a little more about your experiences?
Zaatari is the symbol of the displacement of Syrians. It’s where the tragedy of Syria has become visible to everyone. It’s easy to reach, and it has become the symbol of what the Syrians want. They want to take care of themselves. They want to be recognized as human beings and have expressed very strongly their desire to be in charge of their lives, to regain their dignity, to regain their individual identity, which they have lost.
When you’re displaced, when you’re a refugee, you lose everything up to the family photos. I mean everything goes, and so we have learned through Zaatari that humanitarian aid tries to make us all equal—same calories, the same liters of water, the same tents—but it doesn’t really look into us as human beings.
We learned through the camp, through the situation in Jordan, but also through the region, that we must think differently. We have to—first of all—comprehend the camps as living spaces, as temporary cities, whatever the duration is, and also where change can take place, where evolution of people can take place, and where, in fact, there is a unique opportunity to bring in different thinking and different concepts.
Many regional countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon host a large number of Syrian refugees and are under incredible strain. In your view, what is needed for greater support to host countries in sharing the burden by the international community?
We try to “help,” quote/unquote, the countries through humanitarian means. It is not up to the humanitarian agencies to bring in that change. Humanitarian agencies are there to do first aid, to save lives in the beginning, but then, immediately [after], we have to look into real investments into those countries so that they’re actually capable of absorbing so many people.
All of these countries have not seen sufficient investment into jobs, into energy, into water, which are big issues in some countries such a Jordan, for instance. We haven’t seen anything significant happening, any significant change besides some small token donations to the local populations.
You’ve argued that fast investment in creating jobs and activities for the refugees is needed. What are some of the obstacles to implementing this tool?
We have fantastic resources in the world. We have incredible capacities. This world can find solutions for everything, there’s an answer to most problems we face. There’s know-how to deal with housing shortages, and in most countries, especially when you have a massive migration of refugees, housing is a big issue.
There’s lots of know-how on social, affordable housing, and the same for other technologies, which can solve issues. Two-hundred thousand Syrians lost limbs due to the war. Today, with 3-D technology, we can actually produce prosthetic devices for a really small portion of what they cost and very fast.
There’s no reason that we can’t make these devices, but the impediment remains. There are no fast-track financing instruments available to transfer that know-how. Even the private sector, which has a lot of the answers, want guarantees, reassurance that if they invest in, let’s say, a country which may be close to a conflict zone or maybe even itself not as stable as they would like to see, they want to be reassured that their investment is not going to be lost.
There are urgent requirements to invent and develop financing tools, and tools to ensure investments. If we overcome it, we can see a very rapid deployment of these resources, which need a little bit of backup.
In your experiences have you seen any successes?
We have done a number of projects in the past. We did a project in Sarajevo, with the know-how of a Viennese housing association. They invested 5.5 million Euros in constructing 164 apartments in Sarajevo for returning refugees, and that is a joint project with the Railway Trade Union of Bosnia.
It’s an investment which pays back actually—a long-term investment. It’s know-how of the social housing sector of post-Second World War Western Europe, which has been transferred to, in this case, to Sarajevo, but there’s no reason it can’t be transferred to Kurdistan, or to somewhere else where there are tremendous problems with housing, for instance.