What are the political arguments for helping refugees within the country rather than helping refugee camps abroad?



Germany currently spends 20 billion euros per year on helping its 2 million refugees. This means that a single refugee costs the German budget around 10 thousand euros, excluding additional contributions by private organizations and charities. At the same time some estimates show that helping a refugee abroad is 10 times less expensive. Likewise it's a lot less controversial and has been done for many decades.

So what are the political arguments for spending money on helping refugees inside the country's borders? Wouldn't we be able to help a lot more people by focusing on being cost-effective?


Posted 2017-05-11T18:17:17.583

Reputation: 36 466

1Are you suggesting that there are political arguments for sending people back to where they are likely to die from war or genocide or political persecution? Do you not understand why there are refugees? – J Doe – 2017-05-11T18:49:26.890

1@Jdoe no they could be sent back to refugee camps abroad or new camps can be built in low cost locations. Or simply refused entry on account of having spent all our budget on helping countries rebuild themselves. – JonathanReez – 2017-05-11T18:50:41.593

3@JDoe - that's a logical fallacy. In this specific case, most refugees (1) don't go to countries where they would be far more culturally meshed such as other Arab countries or (2) Don't bother stopping at less-desirable countries on the way (Greece, Turkey etc...). IOW, the options are not limited to "stay in Germany or go back to warzone in Syria". – user4012 – 2017-05-11T19:03:30.897

1$10 says the most obvoius correct answer will be shunned (Europe is in the middle of demographic implosion and will go the way of Japan soon if trends continue, so influx of refugees and other immigrants is pretty much the only solution for demographic growth required economically to support retiring Baby Boomer generation) – user4012 – 2017-05-11T19:06:52.407

@user4012 The question is not "Why don't refugees go somewhere else?" or "Why don't other countries accept refugees?", the question is "What are the political arguments for helping refugees within the country rather than helping refugee camps abroad?" Literally, the questioner wants justifications for sending them back where they came, and not to another country. – J Doe – 2017-05-11T19:13:01.607

2@JDoe - the question said absolutely nothing about "sending them back". It simply said "abroad". The "back" was you projecting your own views on it. – user4012 – 2017-05-11T19:20:36.427

1Why would sending the goods to these other countries be cheaper than distributing the goods to refugees in your own country? For the most part, countries don't actually pay the cost of moving the refugees to them, refugees move on their own, so the cost of "moving" a refugee from their own country to yours is $0. Moving them back, THAT would cost a lot of money. – Erik – 2017-05-12T07:35:59.043

1@Erik goods are the cheapest part. Local accommodation, personnel, integration efforts, etc, cost the bulk of the money. Not to mention the controversy of bringing foreigners over. – JonathanReez – 2017-05-12T07:46:16.273

@JonathanReez but doing those things far away from your own country is still more expensive, right? Sending your local workers abroad is more expensive than having them work where they are. Many of the countries directly surrounding crisis zones are so full of refugees that money is no help to them; they need goods and manpower. (Or they are completely empty of refugees because they refuse to help them, so money still wouldn't solve anything) – Erik – 2017-05-12T07:54:49.760

1@Erik what happened to all the charities that used to save people from hunger in Africa? Surely they've managed to work fine abroad? Wasn't there a slogan about how a dollar a day could feed a child? – JonathanReez – 2017-05-12T07:57:41.390

@JonathanReez there's a big difference between supporting people in a village with relative stability and supporting refugees in a chaotic environment. You can support workers abroad for a few thousands dollars a month easily, but supporting a soldier costs WAY more for the same reason. – Erik – 2017-05-12T08:01:30.107

1@Erik - it's still far far far cheaper to hire a worker AND buy food AND buy goods in a random poor Middle Eastern country than in Germany. Basic facts of economics. Look up average salaries. – user4012 – 2017-05-12T15:56:53.880

@user4012 only if any are available. The countries that are accepting refugees close to Syria for example, are so overcrowded that the market is depleted. They don't have the resources and manpower to tackle the problem, and they also barely have the infrastructure to support incoming materials. Lebanon's refugee count was 25% of their original population last I checked; that's not something they can handle. They need other countries to send them stuff, not money. – Erik – 2017-05-13T07:34:40.383



As often with your questions, I can't tell whether you are making simplistic or outright incorrect assumptions for the sake of asking a potentially interesting question on a theoretical level or if you really believe all this but the reality is that nobody mounted a political argument for doing it one way rather than the other because it's not an alternative any country faces at the moment. Germany in particular hasn't been actively encouraging refugees to enter the country and it has been trying hard to offload applications to third countries (Dublin system, agreement with Turkey) but that's simply not working.

The country also supports the UNHCR and programs to help refugees abroad. You could argue that spending more money on the that would make sense because each euro you spend on foreign aid helps more people than domestic programs, at least in the short term. But this type of approach (which has also been tried to manage regular migration flows) typically fails to have a significant impact on the number of new arrivals. So whatever you do in this respect, you still have to somehow deal with the people who make it to Germany and/or the Schengen area.

Now, some of your comments suggest you are actually contemplating another idea, namely forcing these refugees/asylum seekers to go to third countries and fund refugee camps there. That's legally and practically unrealistic but above all, it wouldn't even necessarily cost less. That's because in this case, you also have to factor in the cost of the removal itself (legal proceedings, running detention centres, paying for flights, police escorts, etc.) According to the estimates I have seen, that alone costs several tens of thousands of euro per person. If I go by your own €10000 estimate, that's the equivalent of several years of support, by which time most refugees will be working and net contributors to the economy and/or welfare system.

Finally, one reason everything costs more in Germany is because Germany is a rich country. And the reason for that is that workers in Germany are much more productive than workers in Turkey or Jordan. So someone who moves to Germany and finds work there will produce much more than what they would have produced abroad, making the world as a whole richer. That ought to be discounted from the costs side of the equation.


Posted 2017-05-11T18:17:17.583

Reputation: 24 058

3"As often with your questions, I can't tell whether you are making simplistic or outright incorrect assumptions" - I usually know the answer or at least have my own theory, but the folks on Politics.SE often provide much more detailed answers. In the particular scenario of asylum seekers I do believe that helping people inland has been a terrible mistake for all parties involved, during the entire post-WW2 period. – JonathanReez – 2017-05-13T05:16:15.267


Protection of all people in your district.

The refugees are there. It may be preferable if they had a safe home country, or cheaper for them to live in a less prosperous country, but taking steps to promote the welfare of people present is a core goal of most states.

It's nice to be nice.

Hospitality to strangers in need is a longstanding tradition. And it wasn't so long ago that (East) Germans were fleeing. Other options exist and are being explored, but helping the people they can is the right thing to do.

Poor alternatives

Germans stereotypically like efficiency, but before efficiency is always effectiveness. Jordan probably couldn't take care of 5 million more refugees tomorrow regardless of how much money was given to them. Germany might rather burn the money than give Greece another blank check. They still get backlash from the last time Germany built large civilian processing centers in eastern Europe.


Posted 2017-05-11T18:17:17.583