December 15, 2016

Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Flickr Creative Commons

There are more refugees in the world right now than directly after World War II. In 2015, 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes. (By the way, that’s 2015. Estimates for 2016 are even higher.) Displaced persons find – or make – new homes in lots of ways: with friends, with relatives, and in neighboring countries. But lots of them end up in refugee camps. And what should be a temporary stay often becomes permanent; many refugees stay for years, sometimes decades. 

Kilian Kleinschmidt, founder of the Innovation and Planning Agency and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees employee, thinks we should be pragmatic about our situation. He says we should think about refugee camps as permanent cities, rather than short-term settlements.

Three Takeaways:

  • Kleinschmidt argues that, by changing the way we think about both refugees and the permanence of their situation, we can better help them. “We look at people in these places as a liability,” he explains. “But not as people who have capability and, in fact, opportunity.”
  • Kleinschmidt thinks there’s a problem with the way people think about refugees: “We force people to go to the toilet together, to go to the washrooms together, to cook together, and we don’t accept that people have any individual desires.”
  • But even without recognition, refugees are still finding creative ways to individualize. In Jordan’s Zaatari camp – which, with a population of about 80,000, is one of the biggest camps in the world – residents have created an informal economy. Businesses include curtain shops, plant shops, and a travel agency.

More Reading:

innovation hub, displacement, Kilian Kleinschmidt, Syrian refugees, refugees

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