Melissa Fleming: Why we should help refugees thrive, not just survive

Host countries should not only help refugees survive but also recognise their enormous talents and resourcefulness and help them thrive, says Melissa Fleming, UN Refugee Agency’s spokesperson.

In a TEDGlobal 2014 speech, Ms Fleming stresses that the investment in refugees’ potential may well be the most effective relief effort there is.

She notes that 50 million people in the world today have been forcefully displaced from their home — a level not seen since the Second World War.

More than three million Syrian refugees are right now seeking shelter in neighboring countries. In Lebanon, half of these refugees are children; only 20% are in school.

“Syrian refugee children, all refugee children tell us education is the most important thing in their lives. Why? Because it allows them to think of their future rather than the nightmare of their past. It allows them to think of hope rather than hatred,” Ms Fleming says.

The UNHCR spokesperson calls on all to make sure that refugee camps are healing places where people can develop the skills they’ll need to rebuild their hometowns.

“There is something more that we can do than just simply helping refugees survive. We can help them thrive. We should think of refugee camps and communities as more than just temporary population centers where people languish waiting for the war to end. Rather, as centers of excellence, where refugees can triumph over their trauma and train for the day that they can go home as agents of positive change and social transformation,” Ms Fleming says.

She points out that “Not investing in refugees is a huge missed opportunity.”

Ms Fleming adds: “Leave them abandoned, and they risk exploitation and abuse, and leave them unskilled and uneducated, and delay by years the return to peace and prosperity in their countries. I believe how we treat the uprooted will shape the future of our world. The victims of war can hold the keys to lasting peace, and it's the refugees who can stop the cycle of violence.”