President Trump to UN: Help Refugees Return Home and Rebuild their Countries

By Nayla Rush on September 20, 2017

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump explained the United States' approach to the current refugee crisis:

The United States is a compassionate nation and has spent billions and billions of dollars in helping to support this effort. We seek an approach to refugee resettlement that is designed to help these horribly treated people and which enables their eventual return to their home countries to be part of the rebuilding process. For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region. Out of the goodness of our hearts, we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region and we support recent agreements of the G20 nations that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible. This is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach.

We agree with President Trump's positioning; instead of increasing resettlement admissions, the United States can help millions of refugees in their own region so they can return home and rebuild their countries when conflicts end.

My colleague Steven Camarota estimates that "in their first five years in the United States, each refugee from the Middle East costs taxpayers $64,370 — 12 times what the UN estimates it costs to care for one refugee in neighboring Middle Eastern countries." He concludes, that "the high cost of resettlement in the United States means careful consideration should be given to alternatives to resettlement if the goal is to help as many people as possible."

For my part, I have on many occasions (see here, here, and here) insisted that refugee resettlement is not the answer. Instead of pushing for more resettlement, the United States (and the international community) should put more emphasis on proximity help and, ultimately, return.

Choosing to offer a lucky few a better life in the United States and leaving behind millions of others who are undergoing common hardships is not morally commendable. As Oxford economist Paul Collier noted:

Refugees overwhelmingly are and are going to continue to be in countries that border the areas of the conflicts, so the fate of refugees does not really depend on whether a few thousand more come to the rich societies. What matters is what happens to the millions.

A new refugee strategy is in order. A development-based policy (rather than a resettlement-based one) could give millions autonomy and opportunity and render them better equipped to rebuild their post-war countries while boosting the economies of hosting countries. Refugees don't want handouts; they want to live in dignity and provide for their families.

Above all, most refugees state clearly that they want to return home as soon as possible. That is why, as Collier recommends, refugees should live in a "haven that is proximate, so that it is easy to reach and from which it is easy to return once a conflict ends."

The Trump administration has the opportunity to reinvent a broken refugee system. It can focus on a development-based policy to empower refugees in their region while concentrating its efforts on ending conflicts and securing the safe return of refugees.

As President Trump said eloquently yesterday, that is the responsible, humanitarian thing to do.