Refugee cities

Refugee camp - ©Elisa Finocchiaro
Refugee camp – ©Elisa Finocchiaro.
Lots of people are worried about refugees fleeing to Europe at the moment, but the numbers are actually quite low:

Q: So why are the numbers higher than ever?

A: They’re not – according to the EU’s own figures, there were 672,000 EU asylum applications in 1992 (when there were only 15 members of the EU), compared to 626,000 last year (when the EU had grown to 28 members with a total population of 500 million). It is true, however, that numbers had dropped substantially in the interim.

Q: How many actually apply for asylum in the UK?

A: According to the latest government statistics: “There were 25,020 asylum applications in the year ending March 2015, an increase of 5% compared with the previous year (23,803). The number of applications remains low relative to the peak number of applications in 2002 (84,132).”

It’s actually an absurdly low number — even the 2002 figure works out at something like 0.13% of the UK’s population (or 66 refuges per town of 50,000 people). The real problem is probably that people can’t tell the difference between refugees and immigrants, and that most countries aren’t very good at integrating their new inhabitants.

I wonder whether a different approach might work better. There was an radical proposal in an article in The Telegraph recently:

Today, 195 sovereign countries are recognised around the world. But we need one more: a country that any refugee, from anywhere in the world, can call home. A country where each citizen has the same legal rights to reside, work, pursue an education, raise a family, buy and sell property, or start a business — rights that most people have but may not cherish. A country where everyone is an equal citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or any other personal status. A completely inclusive and compassionate nation, in which every refugee is automatically granted citizenship.

I’m not sure this would work, to be honest. The new refugee country might quickly tire of receiving all the refugees of the world and start asking other countries to do their bit, too.

It’s possible, however, that sending refugees to new towns would work better than trying to squeeze them into existing cities. I started thinking about this when I read about the history of Store Magleby south of Copenhagen:

Dutch immigrants [were] invited to the country by King Christian II in 1521, because he had a vision of growing vegetables and improve the farming on the Island of Amager just outside Copenhagen. [Many of these lived in] Store Magleby, known as the “Dutch Village”. The reason was that it was a much closed society that held the privileges they had since arriving in Amager and which had been confirmed by each new king. […] The privileges meant that the village had total autonomy after Dutch model. This included both the local and internal, as well as the judicial and ecclesiastical matters.

I believe Store Magleby didn’t lose its special status until the middle of the 19th century, so the arrangement lasted for more than 300 years.

That’s perhaps taking things to extremes, but in theory it wouldn’t be too hard to build a new town for 100,000 people somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, fill it with refugees from Syria (preferably from one ethno-religious group), and not make their permanent residence permits valid outwith this town for the first ten or twenty years. The schools could teach a mixture of a Syrian and a Scottish curriculum at first but gradually shift to the normal Scottish one. Slowly people from New Aleppo would probably start moving to other parts of Scotland, and ordinary Scots would take their place, so eventually it would probably become like any other Scottish town, but it would be a gradual process that wouldn’t upset anybody.

Another advantage of building new towns for the refugees would be that there would be lots of jobs available — like any other town it would need doctors, teachers, builders, shopkeepers and so on.

I’m of course not suggesting that all refugees fleeing to the UK should be housed in Scotland every year, but surely Europe is big enough that ten new refugee cities could be built in various locations every year.

Would this model work better than the current model? Or would it have unforeseen consequences?

3 thoughts on “Refugee cities

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