Resolving the Problem of Refugees: A Global Challenge
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On Friday June 21, an expert discussion was held at the Valdai Club dedicated to World Refugee Day. The humanitarian and social consequences of conflicts around the world were brought up, as well as the role Russia plays in dealing with the problem of refugees and temporarily displaced persons.

Since WWII there have never ever before been such huge numbers of refugees around the globe. According to the UN, there are 71 million displaced people worldwide – 1 percent of the world population. Out of these, 41 million are people who have not left their countries. A large group of refugees has remained in such a situation for more than two decades, while the majority, from five to 15 years. More than 70 percent are women and youngsters with half of the children under the age of 18, which means they have been spending most of their lives in exile. Such alarming data was cited by Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ewen Macleod who spoke at the discussion.

The refugee problem is strongly associated with conflict and poverty: conflicts occur in some of the least wealthy countries, and 50 percent of the world's poorest people will find themselves living in conflict zones in the coming years, Macleod stressed. Therefore, the world community is facing a double challenge: eradicating poverty and finding diplomatic solutions to conflicts. Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts often turn out to be futile, as up to 60 percent of the peace treaties concluded become invalid after a period of time.

Reconstruction of Syria and Return of Refugees: Problems and Options
Amal Abou Zeid
In the absence of any political change or agreement, Syria is unlikely to witness large-scale funding given the abstention of most donor countries from allocating the amounts needed to launch the reconstruction. Therefore, it would be preferable to adopt a smaller-scale, yet more realistic and efficient policy by encouraging the creation of specialized funds for specific sectors and activities, focusing mainly on agriculture, manufacturing and construction at the expense of tourism.
Expert Opinions

One of the key questions arising from the study of the matter is how to distinguish refugees from economic migrants. The criterion proposed by Macleod is quite simple: if you are looking for economic opportunities, you do it so that you can improve the quality of your life and the lives of your family, but if you flee from somewhere, you are running for your life. That is why 90 percent of all refugees end up in neighboring countries or become internally displaced persons, and come under the focus of attention of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Russia is successfully cooperating with the UNHCR through such places as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Defense, said Albert Sitnikov, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights. “Our country provides financial support on a regular and stable basis,” he pointed out. “$2 million has been earmarked and approved by the Russian government as our annual UNHCR contribution.”

According to Sitnikov, part of this sum is a so-called unconditional contribution, which the Agency spends at its own discretion, while Russia distributes the rest – the “tied” part – in coordination with the UNHCR. “This year, from the $2 million, $550,000 were allocated to the Agency, $300,000 to assist Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons, $500,000 to assist internally displaced persons in Syria, and another $300,000 to help Syrian refugees,” he explained.

Migrants in Europe
Movements of people across the Mediterranean decreased compared with 2016. Numbers significantly declined for the Eastern Mediterranean crossing beginning in April 2016 and for the Central Mediterranean since July 2017.

Russia is one of the countries that accepts the largest numbers of refugees, said Sergei Andrianov, Head of the Department for Protection of Social Rights at the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. As many as 1.1 million Ukrainians have migrated to Russia following the armed conflict in Donbass in 2014-2015; since the beginning of that conflict, 1.5 million people have applied to the Russian migration authorities for a legal status, he noted.

The most important aspect in the context of the refugee problem is their return back to their homeland. With effective conflict resolutions and a properly built support system for refugees, they can go home and contribute to the development of their native countries. A positive example is Syria, where 1.7 million people have returned to their homes since last summer, including 700,000 from other countries, Sitnikov pointed out.

The refugee problem is global. According to Macleod, countries that are now hosting refugees should receive greater support from the international community. “We need to have more coordination between states,” he stressed. Investing in refugees and enabling them to attain their human potential contributes to the development of local economies and social cohesion, he added.