At least 12 million people have fled their homes since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the UN has confirmed. More than five million are refugees in neighbouring countries, while seven million others are believed to be internally displaced within Ukraine itself. If there is no ceasefire, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than two million refugees globally will require resettlement next year alone.
According to the UN, as of July more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded in countries across Europe. More than 3.5 million have applied for temporary residence in another country: an estimated 1.4 million in Russia; 1.2m in Poland; 83,000 in each of Moldova and Romania; 80,000 in Slovakia; 26,000 in Hungary; and just under 10,000 in Belarus.
There is no doubt that, if integrated properly, Ukrainian migrants can bring economic benefits to their host countries. In the short term, integrating them into their new communities will be costly. I know that what I am saying will be unpopular among many people, but we should not underestimate the influence of cost on behaviour. Moreover, it's not easy to quantify them, but for the European Union, refugees may have a cost of €8,000 to €10,000 per person in the first year in terms of housing and support, says the International Monetary Fund.
However, what happens if such investment is not made to help the refugees? Welcoming refugees into a host country is like building a large public facility. If you use quality materials from the beginning, it will last a long time. We can apply this simple analogy to the resettlement of refugees. The difference between investing early and investing later can be seen in the example of Syria. In Turkey, far right politicians are trying to put the refugees' status in jeopardy by threatening to send them back to Syria. More than 10 million Syrians had to leave their own country because of the war there and yet still they have resettlement challenges. Many of them could remain on the margins of employment and have a harder time integrating; their children's future could be at risk. Clearly, for those who are resettled there will be a long-term cost if there is no investment in terms of accommodation, education and employment. Without suitable provision in these areas the eventual cost maybe be even higher with all the negative consequences of marginalisation, such as crime and drug addiction.
What's more, while refugees are often seen as a burden on the economies of host countries, studies show that they generally make positive contributions to local economies. According to a 2020 report in the US by the International Catholic Migration Commission, "Are Refugees Good or Bad", refugees often create new jobs after joining the workforce, and as a result have increased the median average income over time. The report found that within the first twenty-five years, their median income tripled to 67,000 dollars per annum, which is 14,000 dollars higher than the national average.
Clearly, refugees are not a burden but welfare-enhancing assets. A study from the World Bank showed that as of 2015, Syrian refugees in Turkey had increased the country's average wage by creating formal jobs outside the agricultural sector. The Lebanese economy had also grown beyond expectations in the previous two years alone, the country's highest growth rate since 2010, according to the World Economic Forum.
I want to challenge what seems to be the conventional wisdom regarding refugees. Accepting, protecting and empowering refugees is a win-win-win formula for the refugees themselves, for their host country and for their country of origin.
It has to be admitted that refugees are not just people who don't like where they are living and opt to move to another country for economic reasons. The issue is more complex than that, although there are always exceptions.
Nevertheless, by definition a refugee is someone who is unable to or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Hence, there is no difference between refugees from Ukraine and Syria in terms of human dignity and integration into host societies. While dealing with the effects of the pandemic and energy caps this winter, Ukrainian refugees should not be neglected. They should all be resettled and empowered before it's too late.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.