Betts, Alexander & Paul Collier (2017) Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System. London: Allen Lane. 265 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-241-28924-2

Jørgen Carling


​Betts is a political scientist and directs the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. Collier is a development economist, also at Oxford. They present their background as a contrast to the ‘lawyers and anthropologists’ who dominate scholarship on refugees, and raise an issue that they describe as ‘tragically new to […] the domain of refugees: refugees need work.’ The authors argue that we have a moral duty to help refugees, and to do so in a cost-effective way that can be extended to all refugees. However, this duty is limited to restoring life to pre-refuge conditions, which is most easily done in neighbouring countries that are socio-economically similar. High-income countries should provide funding and stimulate employment in partnership with the private sector. In this way, the authors argue, refugees can gain income and autonomy, and do not become a burden on the countries that host them. When the conflict ends, the refugees are nearby and economically active, ready to return and start reconstruction. If they chose to leave and set off towards Europe, they should be ‘treated humanely, but […] sent back’. The authors deserve praise for the attempt to develop solutions that are both principled and pragmatic, and for doing so in an eloquent way that attracts attention. But much of the analysis is surprisingly detached from existing research, as well as from the history of refugee policy. At the same time, the more original parts of the proposal, are presented somewhat casually and naïvely. European policy-makers are likely to embrace the arguments for keeping refugees at a distance while paying less attention to the calls for ensuring that refugees are ensured autonomy and dignity in regional havens.