Rethinking the Response to the Refugee Crisis
Humans on the Move was founded last year in response to a heightening global refugee and migration crisis — that entails the worst level of displacement in the world since World War II. The organization’s mission — to bridge a market gap between impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and refugees through a lens of ethical investment in solutions that improve conditions for humans on the move — was also founded on the need to address the insufficiency of the global response to these crises. From our perspective, such response had failed to take into account the effect of geopolitical forces and national policies on human lives and actual lived experience, nor the basic needs that refugees and migrants have themselves expressed. We know there are better solutions out there, and we have set up Humans on the Move to seek them out, and help their implementation.
These past few weeks, though, have pulled the entire world backwards. It has been one of the most challenging weeks I have ever experienced. Most people who work on refugee and migration issues knew Donald Trump’s presidency would bring drastic changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program. But the negative emotional and practical impact of the Executive Order that was issued and executed on January 27 has been more extreme than we could have expected.
The impact that it has had on human lives, refugees, organizations, and communities that resettle them are immense. What has not been widely shared is that in addition to the refugee resettlement program being halted for 120 days, and Syrian refugees being banned indefinitely, federal payments have also been halted to resettlement agencies. This creates immediate funding gaps in the millions of dollars for organizations to care for and to continue to resettle refugees that are already in the United States.
These weeks have also been some of the most inspiring I have ever experienced. I have been inspired by the popular response — people going to the streets and to airports literally all over this country and abroad, demanding that the executive order be rescinded. The number of calls that both senators and representatives have received in opposition to the ban is overwhelming. While there have been moderate successes in court and pullbacks from the administration, there is still great confusion and fear around the travel ban and refugee resettlement program, a growing risk of dire impacts on migrants ranging from lack of available resources to death, and uncertainty around funding flows.
Through Humans on the Move, we are rethinking the response to the refugee and migration crisis in this fast-shifting environment. We are bringing together philanthropy, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, private sector, refugees and migrants, NGOs, civil society, and the creative economy through a lens of ethical engagement to address community needs and work to improve conditions for humans on the move through systems change.
In our current landscape, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for those who work on refugee and migration issues is to shift the narrative. The first level of changing the narrative is to challenge the false information out there. So here are some fast, basic facts:
* There are 230 million people on the move on any given day.
* Currently 65.3 million of them qualify as refugees.
* There are refugees on every continent except for Antarctica.
* Africa has the highest number of refugees.
* The three countries sending the most refugees are Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
* 52% of refugees are women and children.
* Refugees on average are unsettled for 5–7 years but for as long as 28 years.
With regard to the current situation in the U.S., here is what you should know:
* Refugees are some of the most vetted immigrants to the United States. The process takes 18–24 months and goes through 20 different security and health checks.
* The current executive order immediately impacts 20,000 people who were ready to move to the US and start new lives here, many with family members already resettled here.
* There are another 40,000 people who have progressed towards the end of the 20-step approval process, waiting for resettlement to the U.S.
* Local communities are financially affected, as payments from the federal government to assist with the cost of resettling refugees for the 90 day period have been effectively shut off. Catholic Charities USA, the largest resettlement agency in the US, for example, is forecasting an $8 million dollar shortfall.
* Federal funding for sanctuary communities is in jeopardy.
Through our programming at Humans on the Move, we are committed to finding solutions globally and domestically to address this crisis. We intend to engage social changemakers and refugees and migrants themselves globally to deploy solutions in collaboration with and in service to refugee communities. We have launched a series of programming, including our first Cities For All convening initiative — launched to great success in December 2016, in Milan, Italy, and addressing integration, innovation, and investment. We look forward to expanding this and other programs over the coming year. We intend to be a resource to the impact investing and philanthropy communities, for whom there is a role in re-calibrating global responses to this crisis in a fast-changing policy environment. We invite you to work with us on addressing the crises.
Christine Mendonça is the founder of Shore to Shore Advisory, an impact investment advisory firm working with family offices, and Cofounder of Humans on the Move. To follow the organization’s work, sign up for their newsletter here.