If You Don't Want Refugees, Invest in Peace

No place like home.

Photographer: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Give credit to President Barack Obama: The pledges of aid the U.S. marshaled this week are a welcome counterpoint to the mostly hollow declaration on refugees the United Nations as a whole has issued.

As badly as the money is needed, however, only peace can stem the surge of refugees that is swamping the world.

More than 65 million people are now displaced -- the highest number since the UN began keeping tabs. Conflicts have driven more than 21 million from their countries, mostly to their poor neighbors. Rich nations have admitted few refugees for resettlement -- a scant 107,000 in 2015 -- and aid for those in sprawling camps has not kept up: Last year, the UN's refugee reported the widest-ever gap between the funding it needed and that which it received.

This week's declaration merely kicks the can down the road until 2018, when global compacts to help both refugees and regular migrants are to be adopted.

QuickTake Europe's Refugee Crisis

What's needed, beyond new money for those stuck in camps and a greater willingness to resettle more people, is a system to process asylum claims faster, and greater financial support for Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon and other countries to help the millions of refugees they're hosting attend school and get work.

Ultimately, though, the way to solve the crisis is to end the conflicts that have created it. From 1999 to 2011, the world's refugee population was largely stable. And while the war in Syria has fueled much of the sharp increase since then, it is not the only cause, and some conflicts may be easier to solve than others. South Sudan, for instance, has been the world's fourth biggest source of refugees in the past two years. But that is in part because a UN peacekeeping force there has failed to do its job.

Peace is never easy to achieve, to be sure. But consider some recent history: Myanmar, which has long been a major source of refugees, has become a democracy, on a path to resolving its internal conflicts. And Colombia, with help from the U.S., Norway, Cuba and other countries, has brought an end to Latin America's longest-running insurgency. That offers a way home for more than 7 million displaced Colombians, and a beacon of hope for refugees everywhere.  

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.