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In defence of aid

2 April 2017

10:30 AM

2 April 2017

10:30 AM

Paul Collier is right to say that the refugee crisis will not be solved with tents and food alone. But context is everything, and aid remains vital.

In middle-income countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, getting refugees into jobs is essential. Businesses are part of the jigsaw. So is government legislation to ensure, for example, that refugees get work permits or can register as self-employed. So too are labour market interventions that generate incentives to get refugees working.

However, in fragile and impoverished states that lack functioning markets and governments, different forms of aid are required. Collier rightly highlights the principles of autonomy and integration, but job creation or community integration for those starving in Yemen or South Sudan won’t help save lives. Food and medicine have to be the top priorities here.

The important question is how to provide better aid for refugees in all crises and contexts. This requires an obsessive focus on evidence: collecting data to assess what is cost-effective and cost-efficient, admitting failure where interventions don’t work, and innovating across the response, from job creation to healthcare, housing and emergencies.

Countries like Britain can provide aid and strong support through institutions like the World Bank. There is one other thing: welcoming refugees to our own shores offers the most vulnerable (and most vetted) substantive help. It is also a symbolic stand with countries bearing the greatest load in the refugee crisis.

David Miliband is the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. His letter appears in this week’s Spectator, in response to last week’s cover story by Paul Collier


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