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Help the Refugees With Debt for Dignity Swaps

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared Europe's ongoing refugee crisis a bigger challenge to European unity than Greece's financial woes.

She reminded her own country that Germans should be proud of a post-war heritage based on the principles of dignity, human rights and the right to political asylum.

Spurred on by the increasingly dire human and political costs of inadequate response, European leaders will gather in mid-September to address the refugee crisis.

They should look to the environmental conservation movement to find innovative policy ideas. Debt for nature swaps were invented in the 1980s by the World Wildlife Fund. This financial instrument came about in the context of developing country debt -- driven by oil shocks -- and exacerbated by lender austerity requirements. Countries rich with natural resources had no capacity to protect them.

Debt for Nature -- a successful financing model for global security

Debt for nature swaps were conceived when the human security value of conservation was becoming more apparent. Issues like atmospheric change, climate disruption and the benefits of genetic diversity have consequences for all life on Earth. The concept is simple: debt forgiveness for implementing conservation measures. The initial motivation of the debt for nature swap was to provide a two-layered solution for developing countries that were inundated with debt and environmental degradation.

Likewise, today's overwhelming refugee crisis has global implications for security. The best way forward would be for violent conflict to end, unlikely in the near future. About 60 million refugees exist in the world today. In Europe, Greece is receiving 1,500 asylum seekers a day -- a number expected to rise. Greece is a frontline asylum country inundated with debt and refugees. It lacks the capacity to process refugees in a compassionate and orderly way. European lenders should write off or discount Greece's debt to help them build this capacity with a debt for dignity swap.

When it comes to the protection of desperate, endangered people, traditional refugee mechanisms are failing. To be sure, many of those in charge of refugee management are heroic. They are also underfunded and obsolete. The UN itself admits that its refugee reception facilities are dysfunctional.

Creative financial ideas to help refugees already exist. Peter Schuck's tradeable refugee protection quotas is one example where participating nations can pay others to fulfill their obligations.

Debt for dignity builds on this idea. Like the conservation measures initiated in the '80s, debt for dignity will create financing options. A public swap would happen through financial institutions and national governments i.e. the European Central Bank and Greece. A private swap would be negotiated by a global non-profit organization.

Over time, debt swaps for human benefit expanded: small enterprise, child survival, and education have also been financed this way. Agile and flexible, the debt for dignity swaps could address a niche area of refugee crisis response like refugee reception and processing. The countries on the front line of the crisis, like Greece, Turkey, Italy and Malta, want help with the task of asylum-seeker intake. If they make it to shore, refugees on the Greek Islands must walk miles to the processing center and have no place to stay. Many Greek citizens have exhibited generosity, but they need systematic help. Europe should finance and expand this show of decency.

The European Union and Greece need a debt for dignity swap to increase the capacity of Greece to act with orderly compassion. This action would also provide an example of humane processing for other front line European states (Hungary). Meanwhile, national leaders can work out the complex details, like lawful status.

Critics of this idea will say that facilitating transit will encourage more refugees. They have a point. Long-term resettlement is a dreaded prospect among elected leaders. It comes with changes that many reject outright. But in the case of today's crisis, some kind of protection in other countries is not a strategy of last resort, but a strategy of only resort. The alternative is violence and death.

Goodwill is vital in the battle against violent extremism

Forward thinking countries need a new vision for security -- one that accelerates us far beyond borders and force. Such last-century definitions are inadequate in a world where violent extremist groups crowdsource support for their worldview online and then scale their malevolence through a network of local grievances. Poverty and desperation drive some to ISIS, but many others are driven by a desire to be included.

Alienated and abandoned refugees are prime recruitment candidates for violent extremism. Defense Analyst Tricia DeGennaro recently returned from the region.

"The Middle East has a two fold problem with Syria. Displaced Palestinians are forced to resettle again and Syrians are fleeing the internal violence by the droves. Camps are increasing in numbers over time and the people see no hope. Forced to take care of families and the increasing number of children, the men and their sons either join extremist groups out of desperation or assist them with resources to continue the internal terror. Some 800,000 people have fled to Europe and the tragedy is that thousands now lie in the sea causing more anger and desperation. It does not need to be this way."

Debt for dignity swaps will create a prevention mechanism against this kind of radicalization and build resilience against extremism.

At the end of the day, debt for dignity swaps will be a long-term investment in global security. Monetizing compassion might seem absurd, but compared to the current dysfunction and peril, it offers one way forward. Creating alternatives for refugee transit and processing will also undermine the criminal human smuggling trade. Where is the disaster response technology to help track and locate? Refugees have smart phones. European policymakers will need these records for integration strategies, including the security risks they are assuming.

Maybe the wars will end. Maybe Middle Eastern countries besides Lebanon, Jordan and the Kurds will step up. But just this past week, children have faced pepper spray and batons, toddlers are drowning, and a truckload of adults and children suffocated. How much more will we tolerate? For the unsentimental, how much longer until you realize that in the end, this will be about all of us?

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