‘Refugee Nation’ – imagining a new state for the world’s refugees
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Photo credits: independent.co.uk
By Nayana Godamunne
Over 60 million refugees exist in the world today, the highest number since the Second World War. As a pandemic of anti immigration raises its head at near xenophobic levels, governments in many European states are taking measures to stop the entry of such people within the physical borders of their territory, raising the question; what do we do with these large numbers of people fleeing violence, war, hunger and poverty?
Jason Buzi, the Isreali-born millionaire has proposed that a ‘Refugee Nation’ be created which would host the refugee population and thus solve the world’s refugee problem. Buzi’s unorthodox solution has generated a mixed response. However, in the background of the scale of the crisis and the declining willing of states to provide territory to refugees, Buzi’s proposition is provocative and his diagnosis of the scale of the problem and the need to galvanise a response is creative and innovative.
Buzi’s ‘radical solution’ he says, will provide a home for the world’s refugees by creating a new state – ‘Refugee Nation’. He believes that a new state can be created in which ‘any refugee, from anywhere in the world, can call home’. The new state can be created on: an uninhabited island (e.g. Indonesia, Philippines); within a large country with natural resources agreeing to carve off a sparsely inhabited area (e.g. Finland); or a sovereign, sparsely populated country allowing itself to be ‘taken over,’ with the approval of its population. Buzi, claims his idea ‘isn’t unattainable or crazy’, and that the new nation can be funded from billionaires and governments to house up to 60 million people.
Merits and de merits of the proposition
Buzi suggests that the new nation be established in a sparsely populated existing state, or on an unpopulated island.
In the event of former; what happens to the long standing population when a new nation is created? Historical precedents, such as the creation of Isreal and Liberia, evoke negative perceptions where the new nation was created on already occupied land - the fate of the Palestinian people when the Jews effectively colonised the lands with scant disregard for the settlers on the land. Similarly, the Liberian experience was oppressive for existing communities when the Americo-Liberians were sent by the American Colonisation Society. However, more viable, though mixed experiences, of historical precedents can be used such as the Mandates established by the League of Nations following the First World War where territories were mandated such as; Lebanon, Palestine, Ruanda-Urundi and Tanganyika in a situation comparable to the present crisis.
This leads us to the other option – creating a state in a hitherto uninhabited island. Whilst the idea is appealing and comes without much of the issues related with the previous option, it has its own challenges: are we at risk of ghetorrising an already marignalised population? Are we absolving states from the international obligations they have signed up on? Which country is willing and able to provide such a territory? Who will fund the investment required? There are also legitimate questions about leadership, democracy and freedom, given the diversity of the citizens many of whom originated from situations where overzealous beliefs have triggered unimaginable conflict and violence.
What will the new state look like? It will be very colourful indeed given the diverse origins of the constituent population in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture. One argument is that this diversity will create conditions of conflict leading to further displacement and waves of refugees. Whilst this is a possibility, it is less likely than conflict, xenophobia and violence which refugees would face within existing countries. Furthermore, historically there are examples of plural societies, made up of diverse populations such as those of the new world; the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If we are to go by Buzi’s proposition that self selection is the basis for being a part of ‘Refugee Nation’, it can be assumed that refugees that choose to be citizens will want to start a new and peaceful living in the new land.
Whilst arguments against Buzi’s proposition are raised by those unconvinced by the proposed solution, growing anti immigration sentiments across much of the world, calls for creative and innovative ideas for dealing with the issue. It is in this context that Buzi’s proposition is bold and inspiring. It supports migrant agency by lending to the idea that refugees have the ability to reshape their future. In Syria for example refugee populations have transformed their camps from sterile lines of military type tents set up by international agencies into ones more conducive to community style living. These peoples have skills, talents and aspirations which can and ought to be realized. Besides, there are a significant number of skilled and professionally trained individuals; doctors, lawyers, scientists and thinkers penned up in the camps whose abilities and skills can be gainfully employed. As Buzi comments ‘why not, let them use their talents to build a new nation?”
One of the more attractive aspects of Buzi’s proposition is that he starts from the principle of full, active citizenship being granted from Day One. A country, as he states, ‘where each citizen has the same legal rights to reside, work, pursue an education, raise a family, buy and sell property, or start a business – rights that most people have but may not cherish, a country where everyone is an equal citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or any other personal status.’
Given the scale of the refugee crisis, the growing resistance of host populations who have borne the brunt of insecurity, war and austerity, and the outcry by right wing populist parties in Western Europe against, the albeit, relatively small numbers that are hovering within or near their borders, there is a pressing need to move away from old ideas and modes of coping. Whilst creating a ‘Refugee Nation’ might not be THE solution, we need to recognize the limits that NGOs and international agencies have been placed in and the limits to stretching the goodwill and the political limits of the generosity of neighbouring states (e.g. Lebanon. Jordan, Pakistan) who play host to the vast number of refugees who arrive at their borders on a daily basis.
Buzi’s proposition is a response to the appeal for a new approach to deal with a dynamic human issue. ‘Refugee Nation’, is a new model, that can offer, citizenship, security, employment and a future for displaced populations who may not want to or can’t go back to their homes. Whilst the modalities of how the nation will be created and function will have to be worked out, it begs the question; is it a viable alternative response to act to ameliorate a major moral obligation of our time?
The above article draws on content from interviews, articles and blogs posted by Jason Buzi, Prof Alexander Betts and Prof Robin Cohen
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