In recent decades, as the risks of fragility, conflict, violence, climate change and famine have risen, the number of people fleeing their homes and seeking asylum has risen to 27 million. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple. A large proportion of current migrants – and a larger proportion of future climate change refugees – will not return to their countries of origin. Previous waves of refugees, triggered by wars or episodes of state collapse, have proven cruel to asylum seekers, costly to societies, and politically divisive. The images from the Moria refugee camp or the detention of young children are distinctive in their depiction of the widely shared perception of the failure of current refugee hosting practices. Doubts that current approaches to refugee integration could effectively absorb large numbers of immigrants in the future have led governments in receiving countries to consider alternative refugee policies. The European Commission (2020), for example, calls for “A new and permanent European framework … that can provide … decent conditions for men, women and children arriving in the EU … And the … Allowing Europeans to have confidence that migration is being managed in an efficient and humane manner, fully in line with our values. Could charter cities be the key to developing such a narrative that would benefit refugees and host communities alike?
Charter cities are new urban developments that have been given special jurisdiction to create their own governance systems. Clearly defined legal frameworks, good governance, efficient distribution of public goods, and modern infrastructure can support well-functioning markets and attract investment to generate higher rates of economic growth in charter cities. Based on these principles, we propose to create Sustainable Charter Cities in Exile (SCCEs) as a policy framework for host countries and international development organizations to promote refugee self-reliance and facilitate their integration. The proposal complements existing immigration policies, particularly in the areas of specific procedural and logistical bottlenecks, and supports refugees in the freedom to choose immigration destinations.
Small and medium businesses strive to provide refugees with a safe place, an immediately available help network, and a fast track towards employment and income opportunities. The Guarantor State or a group of states will enforce the Charter of the Specialized Criminal Court for Education, Science and Culture while ensuring the safety of private sector investments and companies, including those in the country of origin with a temporary headquarters in exile. An appropriate institutional structure ensured and monitored by national governments and international guarantors, with the direct involvement of refugees and local communities, would help reduce the risks of crime, human rights violations and sexual exploitation.
Cities can be created in a state or county that agrees to free up land for urban development and/or rehabilitate and reuse depopulated cities. Small and medium centers can be located near large cities to take advantage of existing infrastructure or near the borders of the country of origin of refugees as a transit center for refugee flows. Regulatory regulations, lower taxes, and expedited and simplified customs, along with efficient urban infrastructure, would foster a productive business environment that, along with refugee (skilled) labour, could stimulate economic growth in SMEs. Multinational corporations may set up subsidiaries in SMEs, to earn profits and fulfill their global corporate social responsibilities. The job opportunities and higher wages controlled by workers in SMEs will attract refugees to move to these cities and create new economic opportunities for the local population. Residency in SMEs will be entirely voluntary, driven by the social support offered and the economic opportunities offered.
The model will be based on a partnership between city developers, investors, host country governments and international development organizations. The initial investments in establishing these cities will come in large part from funds that international organizations and host countries have allocated for refugee integration. These funds will be supplemented by increased tax revenue from companies operating in the charter cities, with the ultimate goal of reaching the financial sustainability of SMEs.
Job opportunities and support requirements for working refugees and migrants differ sharply. Economic immigrants are mostly young, single individuals who settle in large urban areas. They are prepared to endure a period of hardship and often have the skills and connections to integrate quickly into the job market. By contrast, refugees – such as Ukrainians fleeing war – make up a large proportion of women, children and the elderly, who need housing, access to health care, child care and educational services. Small and medium-sized businesses can provide specialized services to these categories of refugees, responding to their specific needs and facilitating their transition towards economic self-reliance.
Legal covenants for small and medium-sized enterprises may give refugees access to accelerated processes towards professional re-accreditation and-Temporarily And based on their local qualifications – the right to work in their fields within the limits of SCCE. Allowing skilled professionals to continue working in their jobs, in and out of SMEs at a later time, would generate immediate social welfare benefits, apart from the dignity afforded by the ability to serve citizens in their own areas of expertise. SCCE schools can be staffed with mother tongue teachers so that children do not lose many years of schooling and risk becoming a lost generation. Native-speaking doctors and nurses can treat their fellow citizens, including those affected by war. Civil engineers can maintain the city’s infrastructure, and public servants can work in the city’s administration, distribute social assistance and help process immigration documents.
The development of refugee-based civil society and informal safety nets within small and medium-sized businesses would support efforts to prevent potential risks – including child labor and sexual exploitation – faced by marginalized immigrant groups with unclear views of integration, which are amplified when they are Not equipped to communicate effectively and orient themselves in foreign environments. For many refugees, the possibility to live among their compatriots and work in professions in which they have skills can provide significant benefits compared to opportunities available elsewhere in the host country.
Neighboring communities need to be involved in decision-making processes from the outset in order to overcome the risk of resident residents objecting to the idea of creating a charter city in their vicinity. Geographically contained efforts aimed at helping host communities take advantage of the externalities generated by SMEs (such as subsidized construction, rehabilitation of shared public infrastructure or increased intensity of economic activities), along with appropriate compensation for displaced local populations, will help reduce the risk of social tensions. and/or political.
Rather than increasing competition for available jobs between local residents and incoming refugees, small and medium-sized businesses will attract investments and create jobs for residents of neighboring communities. While operating under their own charters, they will not be fully independent or fully sovereign but will be integrated into regional and national development plans. The links between SMEs and regional economies will grow over time, changing the perception of refugees who, rather than intensifying competition for low-paying jobs (particularly in economically lagging regions), will be seen as turning an economic hinterland into an economic hub with benefits. It goes beyond the immediate objectives of managing refugee flows. In line with the overarching political goals of decoupling economic growth and carbon emissions, SCCE could become a setting of standards – a ‘testing ground’ and a ‘demonstration project’ for a modern and environmentally sustainable city.
As SMEs evolve from emergency assistance centers into stand-alone economic and humanitarian hubs, some refugees gain local experience and knowledge and move out of town to pursue career and life opportunities. At the same time, natives can find jobs and housing in and around SMEs. Eventually, SMEs can fully integrate into the host country’s economy. Alternatively, small and medium-sized enterprises can become centers for managing future waves of refugees, providing residents with social services, legal accreditation, and vocational training, helping them integrate into the labor markets of recipient countries or facilitating their ability to contribute to the eventual reconstruction efforts in their countries. .
The current refugee crises add to the urgent need to develop a sustainable framework, in which SMEs potentially serve as a conceptual anchor. A pilot charter city could reduce pressure on infrastructure and public services for cities struggling to absorb the sudden influx of large numbers of refugees and serve as a testing ground to check the feasibility and costs of implementing small and medium-sized enterprises for potentially larger waves of refugees in the near future.
The cost of building and maintaining a SCCE may be high – but in some cases, it will be less than the total direct and indirect costs of decentralized refugee integration. The political and economic advantages of the SCCE approach and prospects for economic sustainability, especially if charter cities are used to accommodate several waves of refugees, can generate significant returns on initial investment by taxpayers in host countries and the international development community.