Wealthy countries should do more to help developing nations fund local refugee management, the head of the U.N. refugee agency urged Monday, saying that he himself would do “anything” to escape if he was stuck in a squalid camp such as those in war-torn Libya.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with the Egyptian president, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that countries like Egypt do not receive enough recognition for hosting refugees, and that he would advocate for Cairo to receive more bilateral development aid to support its efforts.
Some 85 percent of the world’s displaced are living in the global south, he said adding that he hoped that Egypt’s 2019 presidency of the African Union could help draw more resources for refugees to Africa.
Migrant flows to Europe across the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route have fallen drastically to manageable levels compared to years past, he said, but that has not stemmed people fleeing war and poverty flocking to holding camps in places like Libya, where rights groups say conditions are harsh and include beatings, rape and starvation.
“If I was a refugee or a migrant or anybody going into this center I would opt for anything to get out of there, even if I knew the risk of death was very high,” Grandi said, adding that what Libya needed was security, a political settlement, and help to enforce the rule of law instead of just naval support and aid to build camps to stop illegal people trafficking.
Seeking similar arrangements to the east, European Union leaders have been urging Egypt to help stem the flow of migrants entering Europe from Africa, offering to step up economic cooperation and the prospect of a high-profile summit in Cairo as incentives. Cairo has so far been held up as a good example of cooperation on the migrant issue for stopping people from leaving its coast bound for Europe.
But it has stopped short of setting up “disembarkation platforms” as Europe seeks, where people rescued at sea could be dropped off for screening.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from the government here that they will not establish any camp or any center … frankly I think they are right,” Grandi said, highlighting how Egypt has increased naval surveillance and border control to stop boats headed to Europe from debarking from its shores.
Egypt in 2016 passed legislation to crack down on human trafficking, a growing illegal industry across the Mediterranean, and last year referred dozens to trial for attempted smuggling.
Those combined efforts, he said, meant that more refugees were staying in Egypt, causing a stronger drain on its public services requiring additional aid. “We need to intensify the help,” he said.
Egypt hosts some 250,000 officially registered refugees. Cairo however sometimes mentions a much higher figure of 5 million, although that includes many well-integrated Sudanese, and Arabs who have effectively become immigrants through residency.
Grandi said that UNHCR intends to help Egypt through intensified donor appeals for humanitarian aid, as well as by marshalling bilateral development aid that goes directly into state budgets.
“We can be an advocate for Egypt,” he said. “We can make the case for Egypt, and I think I will.”