UN Debt Relief and Empowerment

On September 10, the UN General Assembly voted on a new framework for debt solutions. The resolution was fronted by Bolivia on behalf of G-77 group and China, and was passed by votes from 124 out of the 176 member countries. A great result!

The resolution is seen as a breakthrough in the work towards justice for indebted countries and may be a step towards an independent debt relief-mechanism. The mechanism should make economic growth possible and allow countries to focus on developing themselves rather than paying back debt caused by conflict and disaster. The resolution will hopefully not only benefit the state, but also the people of the country and their everyday life.

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Why is this relevant for the work of RIJ? First of all, it connects with the situation of the host countries, that is, the countries which refugees settle in. These countries are often poor and/or indebted themselves, and the additional cost of the refugee population is one of the reasons that countries do not wish to have greater refugee populations. Some of the means to reduce this population may be limitations of movement (outside settled area), restrictions on work and education, and restrictions to basic human rights, such as health care.

The first step to remove such restrictions and the hostility towards refugees, is to remove the main reason for their hostility. For some cases, the cases I wish to focus on and emphasize here, it is the additional cost. I am not saying that the cost of additional population will disappear, but that the groundwork for seeing this as a cost will be reduced – the indebtedness. When a country can ‘restart’ their economy, the future is brighter and the refugees can be seen as contributors.

Since entrepreneurship flourishes in several Refugee camps, the income which comes from this will directly contribute to the host society if allowed freedom of movement, work and education. The simplest thing, e.g. buying basic hygiene products, will benefit the community as exchanging money for goods is elementary economic activities creating a ripple effect which in the long term will benefit not only fellow refugees and the community, but the nation as a whole.

A good example of such an entrepreneurial spirit is Mohammed Bashir Sheik, a 22 year old refugee who has never left his refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Still, he learned how to create and host websites, and started a small business. He teaches others how to use computers, and have learned English through chatting online. He further developed his skills in computer management and social media platforms, and set up an Internet hub in the middle of the camp.

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Mohammed Ahmed Bashir, another refugee who have been living in the camp for more than two decades, is also an entrepreneurial spirit. He has his own enterprise which brings power to several internet cafes, more than 30 eateries and 80 households in the camp. He charges a monthly rate for the power, and is able to live of his income.

Self-going individuals like Mohammed Bashir Sheik and Mohammed Ahmed Bashir is creating opportunities for themselves and their community. Their contribution cannot be emphasized enough, and their work should be presented to all those who doubt the strength and knowledge refugees can bring to a community.

Going back to the topic of debt relief, I hope you now see why this will be valuable for a country hosting refugee settlements. But I also hope that you see why the debt relief will benefit refugees who are allowed to return home. If the country can be released from the debt, this kind of entrepreneurial spirit will help rebuild a country which may have been torn by war and insecurity. What Mohammed Bashir Sheik and Mohammed Ahmed Bashir is doing to contribute to the local community surrounding Dadaab, they will also be able to contribute to their home community upon a future return. They have empowered themselves, they are empowering Dadaab and their current community, and it is very likely that they will be able to empower their home community in the future as well.

To read more about the UN general assembly and the resolution, visit their home page, and to read more about the Dadaab camp, visit Dadaab Stories and PennSID.

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