Record numbers of displaced people and refugees

One writer suggests the current refugee and displaced persons crisis is truly epic:

There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history — 60 million in all — and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.

And the numbers may continue to be significant for a while:

While the flow of migrants to Europe this year already represents the biggest influx from outside the Continent in modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement may continue and even increase — possibly for years to come. “We are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in a recent Twitter posting…

“I don’t think this wave can stop,” said Sonja Licht of the International Center for Democratic Transition. “It can maybe from time to time be somewhat less intensive, we simply have to prepare. The global north must be prepared that the global south is on the move, the entire global south. This is not just a problem for Europe but for the whole world.”

Those policy makers who seem pretty unprepared for this – even though there have been hints of migration for a while now – better get moving on a response, both for the refugees and their electorates.

The formula to resettle refugees in European countries

How will refugees be dispersed among European countries? This formula:

On Wednesday, shortly after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a new plan to distribute 120,000 asylum-seekers currently in Greece, Hungary, and Italy among the EU’s 28 member states, Duncan Robinson of the Financial Times tweeted a series of grainy equations from the annex of a proposed European regulation, which establishes a mechanism for relocating asylum-seekers during emergency situations beyond today’s acute crisis. Robinson’s message: “So, how do they decide how many refugees each country should receive? ‘Well, it’s very simple…’”

In an FAQ posted on Wednesday, the European Commission expanded on the thinking behind the elaborate math. Under the proposed plan, if the Commission determines at some point in the future that there is a refugee crisis in a given country (as there is today in Greece, Hungary, and Italy, the countries migrants reach first upon arriving in Europe), it will set a number for how many refugees in that country should be relocated throughout the EU. That number will be “not higher than 40% of the number of [asylum] applications made [in that country] in the past six months.”…

What’s most striking to me is the contrast between the sigmas and subscripts in the refugee formula—the inhumanity of technocratic compromise by mathematical equation—and the raw, tragic, heroic humanity on display in recent coverage of the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and elsewhere who are pouring into Europe.

The writer hints at the end here that the bureaucratic formula and stories of human lives at stake are incompatible. How could we translate people who need help into cold, impersonal numbers? This is a common claim: statistics take away human stories and dignity. They are unfeeling. They can’t sum the experiences of individuals. One online quote sums this up: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.

Yet, we need both the stories and the numbers to truly address the situation. Individual stories are important and interesting. Tragic cases tend to draw people’s attention, particularly if presented in attractive ways. But, it is difficult to convey all the stories of the refugees and migrants. Where would they be told and who would sit through them all? The statistics and formulas help give us the big picture. Just how many refugees are there? (Imagine a situation where there are only 10 refugees but with very compelling stories. Would this compel nations to act.) How can they be slotted into existing countries and systems?

On top of that, you can’t really have the nations of today without bureaucracies. We might not like that they are slow moving or inefficient at times or can be overwhelming. How can you run a major social system without a bureaucratic structure? Would we like to go to a hospital that was not a bureaucracy? How do you keep millions of citizens in a country moving in a similar direction? Decentralization or non-hierarchical systems can only go so far in addressing major tasks.

With that said, the formula looks complicated but the explanation in the text is fairly easy to understand: there are a set of weighted factors that dictate how many refugees will be assigned to each country.

Houston as world’s fourth most popular refugee resettlement country

While most immigration policy debates take place at the national level, large cities are also involved:

Out of every 1,000 resettled U.N. refugees, more than 700 come to America. Though all 50 states accept some refugees, 75 of those 700 find their way to Texas, according to U.S. State Department numbers. And more of those will come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas: The state health services department reports that nearly 40 percent of Texas’ refugees land in Harris County.

This means that Harris County alone welcomes about 30 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement…

In fact, Al Sudani said, some cold American cities host enormous groups of warm-region natives. Nearly 45,000 Iraqis live in Detroit and other parts of Michigan — more than in any other state, according to Census Bureau data assembled by the Migration Policy Institute. More East Africans live in Minnesota than in Texas; Minneapolis-St. Paul has a massive Somali population. “People, they adjust really quickly to their environment,” Al Sudani said…

The single most important factor in Houston’s ability to absorb all of the new refugee arrivals appears to be its vibrant, growing economy. “The focus of refugee resettlement in the United States is early employment,” said Sara Kauffman, Houston area director for Refugee Services of Texas. “We have a pretty fast economy, a lot of jobs available. People can get started working pretty quickly.” One of her clients found himself a job at a car dealership within two weeks of arriving.

Houston doesn’t often draw much discussion as a global city but this would suggest it is an important player in the 21st century world. Indeed, it might be the quintessential American city today.

Tracking the transformation of Houston’s population in recent years would make for a fascinating long-term study: oil capital transforms into cosmopolitan center. There is already some good sociological work on this and it is worth tracking. It may be out there but I haven’t yet seen work on how Houston residents are adjusting to these changes. Perhaps as long as the economy keeps growing, there aren’t many issues…