There has been an increasing amount of refugees due to the ongoing conflicts around the world. The UNHCR (2021) released data indicating that 82.4 million individuals became refugees due to persecution, human rights violations, and other violent events. Governments understood the situation of refugees and legislated laws to protect them. The international Refugees Laws protect and safeguard the basic human rights of refugees and immigrants that are crossing over to neighboring countries. However, the uncontrollable number of refugees is becoming a potential threat to the economic, social, and environmental security of the host nation. These three factors are sensitive aspects of a country and the high quantity of refugees and immigrants tends to drive significant social change.
An increased number of refugees causes competition over a country’s resources. A country has a limited amount of housing, land, food, water, and medical services. Refugees pose an economic threat since they will also require these resources. Their presence will result in increased demand and pressure on natural resources, transportation, energy, health facilities, employment, and social services (Cagaptay & Menekse, 2014). Refugees can cause wages to lower since employers may prefer to hire refugees with low salary expectations. They can also affect the flow of goods and services with the host country which undermines the initiatives for structural adjustments. An example of market fluctuation is the demand for office and residential accommodation as a response to the refugees (Cagaptay & Menekse, 2014). This results in increased construction activities, however, landowners tend to increase rental rates which will affect poor locals and individuals with low incomes.
Large refugee populations may cause a strain on the local administration. The national and regional authorities in the host country will need to divert manpower and resources to protect and support the refugees (Taylor et al., 2016). The local administration will need to expend its resources to take care of the refugees’ needs. Most host governments will show their willingness to help refugees, however, they will always be reluctant to pay for additional infrastructure that can meet these demands (Cagaptay & Menekse, 2014). Some host countries even expect the international community to help fund the costs for refugee support. Most countries do not prepare to allocate development funds or contract loans for refugees. In Malawi, the World Bank reported that up to $25 million of uncompensated public expenditure arises from the presence of the refugees (Taylor et al., 2016). This could have made a significant economic impact on the host country.
An influx of refugees can also result in ecosystem imbalances and environmental degradation. When farmers carry out a land modification, they do so with proper planning. They survey the land and examine the local ecosystem. With this, they can modify land without compromising its quality and endangering the local ecosystem (Taylor et al., 2016). In contrast, a sudden land modification without proper planning can upset the local ecosystem. This can lead to environmental degradation and loss of natural resources. A great number of refugees in a host country may affect the local ecology due to unplanned activities (Cagaptay & Menekse, 2014). These unplanned activities like additional housing and buildings can cause an imbalance in an ecosystem and adversely affect the local ecology.
Groups of refugees in the existing population may create a massive and sudden demand for natural resources. This includes land, water, food, fuel, and shelter materials that are essential for their sustainability (Reuveny et al., 2010). A large increase in the host country’s population will result in an increased demand for resources that could affect the natural environment. These could lead to long-term effects such as low soil fertility, erosion, and landslides (Taylor et al., 2016). For example, a Somali family of five has a wood consumption rate of 2.4m per head for cooking. If a refugee consumes half of this average consumption, then a total of 4,000 refugees would demand approximately 10,000m of wood annually. This means that the average refugee camp annually depletes about 6000 hectares (UNHCR, 2017). This number will increase given the fact that refugee camps require wood to construct. Another example is the 524,000 people that fled to Benaco in Tanzania in 1994. The refugees depleted all the tree resources within 5km of their camps. In 1995, the refugees had to travel 10km or more from their camps to gather more wood (Shepherd, 1995, para. 6). These activities can result in further natural degradation and loss of habitat for the local ecology.
Aside from gathering wood, refugees also engage in activities like foraging, hunting, and collecting food stocks. Refugee camps require constant food supplies and other basic needs. The increased traffic in certain routes could result in the deterioration of certain roads. Iran and Pakistan experienced the devastating impact of refugees on a country’s infrastructure. Pakistan hosted 2 million Afghanistan refugees. The Pakistani government regularly sent vehicles to deliver food and other resources that led to public roads and canals deteriorating. (Reuveny et al., 2010). The refugee camps consumed wood to build permanent housing and other buildings. This resulted in increased consumption of fodder and fuel resources. The refugees also began to raise livestock and graze them around the camps which accelerated soil erosion.
The increased volume of human waste due to a high number of refugees is also another issue. A country only has a limited number of sewerage facilities that collect and store sewage and wastes. These sewerage facilities have a maximum capacity that an increased volume of human waste could eventually exceed. This could lead the excess human waste to contaminate the surface and ground waters (Taylor et al., 2016). This could cause adverse health issues to the refugees and locals. An uncontrolled accumulation of waste can result in the development of diseases and pest infestation. Due to the compact nature of refugee camps, diseases can spread quickly and cause a pandemic.
Refugees also pose a security threat to the host country. Some individuals have raised complaints on how an influx of refugees correlates to an increase in crime rates. Refugee camps tend to have no proper leaderships which can result in certain individuals committing crimes without anyone noticing (Reuveny et al., 2010). Refugees that could not receive basic needs may also resort to criminal activities to provide for themselves. In Tanzania, the country accommodated 250,000 refugees from Rwanda after the 1990 Civil War. Within 4 years, the refugee population has grown to 700,000 individuals. This drastic increase led to a rise in violence and crime rates (Cagaptay & Menekse, 2014). The Tanzanian government was unable to distinguish between the genuine Rwandan citizens and the members of the Former Government of Rwanda. Tanzania became an area of violence due to the increased number of banditry. The region became a host for individuals fleeing from persecution.
Building refugee camps tend to result in an influx of weapons. An increase in the number of weapons can then lead to major security threats. For example, the government of Iran believed that the refugees from Afghanistan may be smuggling weapons and narcotic drugs through the Iran-Afghan border (Licker & Oppenheimer, 2013). Refugees can easily engage in weapon smuggling since local laws tend to not affect refugee camps. Similarly, Kenyan authorities arrested Somali refugees who reside in Eastleigh, Nairobi due to the possession of illegal firearms. The increased number of firearms and other weapons in the host country could result in increased armed crimes that can lead to multiple deaths (Reuveny et al., 2010). This scenario increases national security concerns which authorities may find difficult to address due to the uncontrolled number of refugees.
Conflicts between locals and refugees can also emerge in some cases. The local population may get upset that the refugees are receiving better services and treatment. International aids help support refugees and provide them basic services such as healthcare and education which are mostly unavailable to some locals (Cahaptay & Menkse, 2014). An example of this is a situation in a Kivu refugee camp in Zaire. Various problems resulted from the hostility between the refugees and the locals that felt they were at a disadvantage. The healthcare services that the support groups offered disregarded consultation and coordination with local health practitioners. The refugees received free healthcare which degraded the local cost recovery model (Licker & Oppenheimer, 2013). The NGOs also began to offer higher salaries which resulted in medical staff shifting from working in local clinics to working with the NGOs. This shift greatly affected the locals of the host countries since they do not benefit from the NGOs and are receiving a lower quality of healthcare.
Host countries pay a huge price in providing support for refugees that fled their home countries. The uncontrollable number of refugees poses a threat to the economic, social, and environmental security of the host nation. Refugees compete for the resources in the local market including housing, land, food, water, and medical services. This results in the increased prices and instability that greatly affect the locals who tend to have minimal or no income. Refugees force local administrations to divert manpower and resources to protect them. Land modification and increased construction activities for refugee camps lead to environmental degradation and imbalance in the local ecosystem. The demand for land, water, food, fuel, and shelter materials increased which can result in unsustainable consumption. Refugees also pose national security threats to the host country due to the increase in crime rates and violence. While it is important that foreign countries allow refugees to seek safety in their territories, they should also manage the number of refugees to ensure the sustainable development of the country.
Cagaptay, S., & Menekse, B. (2014). The impact of Syria’s refugees on southern Turkey. Washington Institute For Near East Policy, 1.
Licker, R., & Oppenheimer, M. (2013). Climate-induced human migration: a review of impacts on receiving regions. In Impacts World 2013 International Conference on Climate Change Effects, Potsdam. http://www. climate-impacts-2013. org/files/wism_licker. pdf.
Reuveny, R., Mihalache-O'Keef, A. S., & Li, Q. (2010). The effect of warfare on the environment. Journal of Peace Research, 47(6), 749-761.
Shepherd, Gill. 1995. The Impact of Refugee on the Environment and Appropriate Responses. HPN. https://odihpn.org/magazine/the-impact-of-refugees-on-the-environment-and-appropriate-responses/
Taylor, J. E., Filipski, M. J., Alloush, M., Gupta, A., Valdes, R. I. R., & Gonzalez-Estrada, E. (2016). Economic impact of refugees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(27), 7449-7453.
UNHCR (2017). Social and economic impact of large refugee populations on host developing countries. The UN Refugee Agency. http://www.unhcr.org/excom/standcom/3ae68d0e10/social-economic-impact-large-refugee-populations-host-developing-countries.html
UNGCR (2021). Refugee Data Finder. The UN Refugee Agency. https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/