As the risks of fragility, conflict, violence, climate change and famine have soared in recent decades, the number of people fleeing their homes and seeking shelter has risen to 27 million. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple. A large proportion of current migrants — and a much larger proportion of future climate change refugees — will not return to their home countries. Previous refugee flows, sparked by war or state collapse, have proven harsh for asylum seekers, costly for communities and politically divisive. Images from the Mória refugee camp or the detention of young children are iconic in portraying the prevailing perception of failure in current refugee hosting practices. Doubts that existing approaches to refugee integration can effectively accommodate a potentially large influx of future migrants have led host governments to consider alternative refugee policies. For example, the European Commission (2020) calls for a “new and durable European framework…that can provide…decent conditions for men, women and children arriving in the EU…and…*Convince Europeans that immigration is managed in an efficient and humane manner, fully in line with our values. Could Charter Cities be the key to developing this narrative that benefits refugees and host communities?
Chartered cities are new urban developments that are granted special jurisdiction to create their own governance systems. A well-defined legal framework, good governance, efficient distribution of public goods, and modern infrastructure can support well-functioning markets and attract investment to generate higher economic growth rates in chartered cities.Based on these principles, we propose to establish Sustainable Charter Cities in Exile (SCCEs) serve as a policy framework for host countries and international development organizations to promote refugee self-reliance and promote their integration into society. The proposal complements existing immigration policies, particularly in areas of identified procedural and logistical bottlenecks, and supports refugees’ free choice of immigration destinations.
SCCE seeks to provide refugees with a safe place, an immediately available assistance network, and an accelerated path to career and income opportunities. The guarantor country or group of countries will implement the SCCE’s statutes while guaranteeing the security of private sector investments and companies, including those from the country of origin and temporarily exiled to their headquarters. An appropriate institutional framework, guaranteed and monitored by national governments and international sponsors, and with the direct involvement of refugees and local communities, will help reduce the risk of crime, human rights violations and sexual exploitation.
These cities can be established in states or provinces that agree to free up land for urban development and/or rehabilitate and reuse sparsely populated towns. SCCEs can be located near major cities to benefit from existing infrastructure, or close to the borders of refugee countries of origin to serve as transition hubs for refugee movements. Streamlined regulations, low taxes, expedited and simplified customs, coupled with efficient urban infrastructure, will foster a productive business environment that, together with a (skilled) refugee workforce, could spur economic growth in SCCE. Multinational corporations can set up subsidiaries in SCCE, both to earn profits and to fulfill their global social corporate responsibilities. Employment opportunities and higher wages for workers in SCCE will attract refugees to these cities and create new economic opportunities for the local population. Residency at SCCE will be entirely voluntary, driven by the social support provided and the economic opportunities provided.
The model will be based on partnerships between city developers, investors, host governments and international development organisations. The initial investment in the establishment of these cities will mainly come from funds allocated for refugee integration by international organizations and host countries. These funds will be supplemented by growing taxes on businesses operating in the franchise city, with the ultimate goal of achieving SCCE’s financial sustainability.
The job opportunities and support needs of refugees and working migrants vary widely. Economic migrants are mainly young singles settled in large urban areas. They are prepared to endure a tough time and often have the skills and connections to integrate quickly into the workforce. By contrast, refugees — such as Ukrainians fleeing the war — include a large proportion of women, children and the elderly who need housing, health care, childcare and education services. SCCE can provide these refugee groups with specialized services to meet their specific needs and facilitate their transition to economic self-reliance.
SCCEs’ legal charter may allow refugees to enter an accelerated process for professional recertification and—temporary advertisement And based on their local qualifications – the right to work in their field within the SCCE. In addition to the dignity conferred by being able to serve fellow citizens in their respective fields of expertise, there will be immediate welfare benefits in allowing skilled professionals to continue their professions within and beyond SCCE. SCCE schools can have native language teachers so children don’t lose years of school 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 a city’s infrastructure, and public officials can work in city administration, distribute social assistance and help with immigration documents.
The development of refugee-based civil society and informal safety nets within SCCE will support efforts to prevent potential risks – including child labor and sexual exploitation – of the unclear integration prospects faced by marginalized immigrant groups, when they do not have the capacity to These risks are magnified when communicated effectively and effectively. Position yourself in an unfamiliar environment. For many refugees, the possibility of living with their fellow citizens and working in the professions they excel at may offer significant benefits over opportunities elsewhere in the host country.
Neighboring communities need to be involved in the decision-making process from the outset to overcome the risk of resident populations opposing the idea of a charter city near them. Geographically contained efforts to help host communities benefit from SCCE-generated externalities (such as subsidized construction or repair of shared public infrastructure or increased density of economic activity), coupled with adequate compensation for displaced local populations, will Helps reduce the risk of social and/or political tensions.
Rather than increasing competition for available jobs between the local population and incoming refugees, SCCE will attract investment and create employment opportunities for residents of adjacent communities. While operating under their own charter, they will not be fully autonomous or sovereign, but will be incorporated into regional and national development plans. The link between SCCE and the regional economy will grow over time, changing the perception of refugees, who will not intensify competition for low-wage jobs (especially in economically backward regions), but will transform the economic hinterland for having benefits beyond the immediate goal of managing refugee influxes. Consistent with the overarching political goal of decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions, SCCE could become a standard setting – a “testing ground” and “demonstration project” for modern and environmentally sustainable cities.
As SCCE evolves from an emergency aid center to a self-sufficient economic and humanitarian center, some refugees will gain experience and local knowledge and move out of the city to pursue their career and life opportunities. Meanwhile, local citizens can find jobs and housing in and around SCCE. Ultimately, SCCE can be fully integrated into the host country’s economy. Alternatively, SCCE could become a hub for managing future refugee flows, providing residents with social services, legal certification, professional training, and helping them integrate into recipient countries’ labor markets or improve their ability to contribute to their respective countries’ eventual reconstruction efforts.
The current refugee crisis has increased the urgency to develop a sustainable framework, possibly with SCCE as a conceptual anchor. Pilot charter cities can relieve pressure on the infrastructure and public services of cities struggling to absorb sudden influxes of refugees, and serve as a testing ground for verifying feasibility and assessing the cost of implementing SCCE in response to a potentially larger influx. refugees in the near future.
The cost of building and maintaining SCCEs can be high – but in some cases it will be less than the total direct and indirect costs of decentralized refugee integration. The political-economic advantages of the SCCE approach and its prospects for economic sustainability, especially if chartered cities are used to accommodate waves of refugees, could yield considerable returns for the initial investment of host country taxpayers and the international development community.