World Refugee Day: It’s Time for Radical Change in Refugee Policy

June 14, 2002

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WORLD REFUGEE DAY: It’s Time for Radical Change in Refugee Policy to Prevent Future Humanitarian Catastrophes, Argues Arthur Helton in New Council Book

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Contact: Lisa Shields, Director of Communications, (212) 434-9888

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Refugees and Displaced Persons

New York, June 11, 2002 – World Refugee Day on June 20 is not an occasion to celebrate. Today, nearly 20 million refugees and a further 25 million internally displaced persons are suffering untold miseries. “Refugees are the flesh-and-blood personification of the chaos and insecurities that we confront in the new century which now seems so suddenly fraught with danger,” writes Arthur C. Helton, Director of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in his new book The Price of Indifference: Refugees and Humanitarian Action in the New Century.

His study demonstrates that recent policy failures have resulted in instability, terrible hardships, and massive loss of life. The plight of refugee women, the specific theme of this year’s World Refugee Day, is captured vividly in Helton’s wrenching description of the notorious Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya.

The book, published by Oxford University Press in cooperation with the Council on Foreign Relations, systematically analyzes refugee policy responses over the past decade and calls for specific reforms to make policy more proactive and comprehensive. “Refugee policy must be more than the administration of misery,” says Helton. “Responses should be calculated to help prevent or mitigate future humanitarian crises.”

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Helton has examined all relevant cases in great depth, systematically discussing them with honesty and clarity, including the crises in Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor, Haiti, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Somalia.

Refugee policy as currently conceived cannot cope with the challenges of a perpetual and unmitigated crisis, and must be radically reformed to better address the needs of the uprooted. Helton persuasively argues that there are critical gaps in the capacity of the current international system to undertake effective humanitarian action. The author does not merely expose the deficiencies of current policies and institutions, but also recommends specific reforms.

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Refugees and Displaced Persons

Among the recommendations:

  • Advance planning is needed to make refugee policy responses more effective.
  • Humanitarian structures within governments, notably the United States, as well as the wide variety of international institutions involved in humanitarian action must be reoriented to cope with new challenges.
  • A new international entity for strategic humanitarian action and research (SHARE) should be established, outside of the U.N. system, to help make refugee policy and humanitarian action smarter.

The Price of Indifference gives fresh answers to old questions,” says Council President Leslie H. Gelb, “and although it may infuriate some international bureaucrats, this thought-provoking account will serve well our efforts to design workable solutions to humanitarian disasters. This is a very important book for both decision makers and academics interested in efforts to reform international refugee policy and U.S. responses to humanitarian crises.”

Arthur C. Helton, a leading expert on international refugee law and policy, founded and directed the Forced Migration Projects at the Open Society Institute in New York prior to joining the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he directed the Refugee Project at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Advance praise for The Price of Indifference:

“This new and highly original book examines one of the most pressing issues facing the international community today - the issue of refugees. The author provides a very clear review of humanitarian action over the past decade, focusing his analysis on forced displacement and on the role of the United Nations. Mr. Helton not only asks important questions, but also makes ambitious policy recommendations. His book is a welcome contribution to the debate on humanitarian action, and will undoubtedly help us to manage humanitarian challenges better in the future.”

-- Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

“Masterfully written and innovative, Arthur Helton’s book offers a most comprehensive and insightful treatment of refugee issues. This work is a splendid combination of the author’s solid academic judgment and his practical familiarity with the subject.”

-- Sadako Ogata, Ford Foundation; Former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

“This is an important book which shows how critical the refugee issue is in the conduct of foreign policy. The refugee problem is often ignored by decision makers. But, as this book shows, most recent international crises have featured refugees. Policy makers should heed Arthur Helton’s recommendations and address refugee issues, if they are serious about peacemaking.”

-- Richard C. Holbrooke, Vice Chairman, Perseus, LLC; Former U.S. Representative to the United Nations

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