Mayssoun Azzam, political anchor from Al Arabiya in the United Arab Emirates, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Rwanda, Sara Pantuliano, managing director of the Overseas Development Institute in the UK, Kaan Terzioglu, CEO of Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri, and Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, senior VP: Chief Sustainability and Public Affairs Officer for Ericsson, during the Session "Reconnecting Refugees" at the World Economic Forum in Davos. PHOTO: World Economic Forum / Faruk Pinjo

INTERNATIONAL - Europe no longer has a concept of shared solidarity and its systems to deal with the refugee crisis has collapsed.

This emerged during a session Reconnecting Refugees at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in Switzerland where leading international figures called on European governments to do more for refugees.

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, said the conflict in Syria alone has driven nearly 10 million people to seek refuge abroad. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon host over 90% of these refugees and he called on Europe to urgently play its part by reinventing how it receives people and how it shares this responsibility among member states. 

"Europe has no more a concept of shared solidarity," said Grandi. 

Grandi added that the flood of refugees into Europe in recent years has led to the collapse of the continent’s screening and reception process, while the crisis has also revealed Europe's weakness in the long-term integration into society of new arrivals.

Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Rwanda, called for greater political engagement. "It is easy for us politicians to hide behind the word 'humanitarian'," said Mushikiwabo. "But refugees are a consequence of bad politics and we need to tackle that." 

She called on Europeans to be patient, take time and deal seriously with the issue, saying European citizens need to understand why these people are coming to their countries and what can be done to deal with the challenges.

Funding for refugees and host communities remains a thorny issue admitted Grandi. He said the system needs more than just short-term humanitarian resources. "We need to look at longer-term funding, investment-type funding, which creates lasting advantages."

Kaan Terzioğlu, CEO of Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri, said connectivity is one key concern for refugees. "The first thing a refugee asks for on arriving at a camp is not water or food, but the password for the wi-fi."

A smartphone is not a luxury, but a basic humanitarian need, he said, as it was often the only thing to connect refugees with the people they left behind. 

Calling for a change in mindset, Sara Pantuliano, managing director of the Overseas Development Institute in the United Kingdom, said refugees needed to be placed at the centre of choosing what they want to buy and for what they want to use aid. "Education and jobs are the two things you hear from refugees," said Pantuliano. "But what do we give them? Food – but it's not the priority for them." 

Terzioğlu said he was also mystified by the fact that many governments don't permit refugees to work in the formal economy. "We try really hard not to lose one customer. I see potential [among refugees] as good taxpayers five to 10 years out. They'd be great building blocks of the future. Why don't governments see this?"

- African News Agency (ANA)