nature, April 2022
More than four million people have fled Ukraine since Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion. Half the nation’s children are displaced. It is crucial to study states’ moral obligations around asylum and resettlement and to consider how these outcomes affect individual well-being, public health, economics and political stability. Yet in focusing on these end points too narrowly, researchers and policymakers can overlook another set of extremely important questions.
What happens to someone who has become a refugee while they wait to join a new country or to return home? On average, a person remains a refugee for more than a decade — 25 years for those fleeing war. Fewer than 1% of the world’s 26.6 million refugees are resettled each year. In their book Refuge (2017), Alexander Betts and Paul Collier estimated that the world spends around US$75 billion on the 10% who seek asylum in wealthy countries, and just $5 billion on the remaining 90%. In this liminal state, the problems of how refugees live, how they are treated by host countries and their citizens, and whether they have access to basic human rights are, in my experience, insufficiently addressed by scholars, policymakers and concerned members of the public.