In 2022, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict once again caused massive food and fuel price spikes and a global refugee exodus. Africa has been a source of global refugee crises for decades, beginning with conflicts in Ethiopia, the Sahel, and the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.
For many years, various countries have been able to put policies in place for integrating refugees, profiting from them economically, and occasionally turning them into workers, taxpayers, and a workforce. But in other instances, millions of refugees endured slavery, violence, discrimination, and persecution, and some of them joined armed organizations.
To address the plight of refugees around the world, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has developed the 2022-2026 Strategic Direction, with overarching goals to protect, secure, and defend the rights of people of concern to UNHCR –refugees and asylum-seekers, returnees, internally displaced people, and stateless persons; respond rapidly and effectively in emergencies and beyond, promote inclusion and self-reliance; empower the people we serve to determine and build their futures; and pursue solutions to address the consequences of displacement and problems of statelessness. Nonetheless, achieving these goals requires the collaboration of all sectors of the international community, including refugee-hosting countries and donors, in order to find solutions for the millions of people who undertake perilous journeys in search of safe places to live.
The world now has 108 million refugees, a record number in human history that amply illustrates the scope of conflicts, climate crises, and other difficulties that various geographical areas are facing around the globe. Although the Refugee Convention, which outlines the basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, was drafted in 1951, 2022 was the year of rediscovering the term “refugee” as the Russian-Ukrainian war revealed the extent of global bias toward dealing with refugees.
Millions of Ukrainians were welcomed into Europe without having to cross the sea or endure perilous journeys in order to get there. These refugees also received additional assistance from UNHCR, with about $1.2 billion in donations from individuals and businesses. Although the number of refugees in developing countries has doubled and reached its highest level in six years, these refugees have not received the preferential treatment accorded to Ukrainian refugees during the Ukraine conflict.
The Cost of Hosting Refugees
As of 2021, the UNHCR had allocated about $1.286 billion to aid refugees in the Middle East, down by about $132.5 million (or about 10percent) from the previous year. Clearly, this amount falls far short of what is required to support refugees in the Middle East, which is widely regarded as the region with the greatest number of conflicts.
In this light, it may be important to figure out the costs associated with hosting refugees. According to the Migration Policy Debates report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2017, Germany spent $17.3 billion to host 900,000 refugees, that is almost $19,200 per refugee per annum. While this cost may appear to be high, calculations from other countries are comparable. For instance, the average cost of hosting one refugee in the United States is about $22.300 per year. This cost rises to about $39,800 in Sweden, a country with a high standard of living, drops to about $15,000 in Canada, and averages about $22,300 in the United States. As a result, according to 2015 data, the average annual cost of hosting one refugee is $24,000. As inflation rates rise around the world, these costs need to be changed to reflect the current cost of housing a refugee, which is about $30,000 per year per refugee.
However, the aforementioned countries are all developed countries, where people enjoy a higher standard of living and access to better government services than their counterparts in developing countries. As a result, the cost of living and quality of life for refugees in developed countries differ from those in developing countries. As a result, to compensate for the disparity in living standards between countries, the Big Mac index, the most well-known sandwich sold in McDonald’s fast food chain worldwide, was utilized, as the price of a sandwich in each country reflects the disparity in living standards and the cost of its production in each country. The average cost of a Big Mac sandwich in the countries included in the report is $5.19, while the equivalent sandwich in Egypt costs about $2.43. Considering the cost of living and the wage structure in Egypt, the cost of supporting a refugee in Egypt could be approximately $12,300 per year.
According to data from the Egyptian government, the country hosts close to nine million non-Egyptians who enjoy all the rights and privileges of Egyptian citizens, and their annual hosting costs are estimated at $100 billion. It is illogical that the cost of hosting approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population costs 26 percent of the country’s $420 billion dollar-denominated GDP. If these costs are cut in half, annual hosting costs will decrease from $12,000 to $6,000, bringing the total cost of hosting 9 million foreigners in Egypt to $54 billion, or 12.8percent of Egypt’s dollar-denominated GDP. If these costs are cut in half, hosting costs will drop from $12,000 per year to $6,000 per year; this would bring the total cost of hosting 9 million foreigners in Egypt to about $54 billion, or 12.8percent of Egypt’s dollar-denominated GDP.
Whether one agrees with this cost or not, it raises an important question: why do the economies of countries that are close to conflict and crisis zones bear the entirety of that cost alone?
Since the plight of refugees is a global and social issue, countries on the periphery of war zones have a special obligation to take in people fleeing violence and chaos in their own countries and provide them with the resources they need to rebuild their lives, including shelter, identification documents, access to education and healthcare, transportation, and employment. If the state, like Egypt, offers many services to its citizens at subsidized prices, the cost of the services provided to its guests increases, necessitating yet another pause in addressing the refugee issue.
If it were not for Egypt’s stance on the refugee issue and its launch of numerous initiatives, including the first National Strategy for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration, which was launched in 2016, and Law No. 82 of 2016 on Combating Illegal Migration and Smuggling of Migrants, which established dissuasive penalties to combat the phenomenon of refugee immigration, criminalized all forms of migrant smuggling, dissuaded institutions from engaging in such activities, and mobilized African interest in addressing the refugee issue via the Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development, the 2019 launch of the Egyptian project “Life Saving Boats” and other Egyptian initiatives, Europe would have been overrun with undocumented immigrants and numerous economic and humanitarian crises.