“If we could purchase a few islands for Refugee Nation, it would solve an urgent humanitarian crisis.”
Facebook recently disowned its motto, “Move fast and break things”. But the phrase is more than apt for the rest of Silicon Valley and the cascade of start-ups that line San Francisco and the Bay Area.
The ideology of moving fast and breaking things and descending establishment conventions has hit everything from taxis, where Uber now reigns, to hotels, where Airbnb is expanding. But this mentality isn’t limited to our own products; the tech geniuses of Silicon Valley are also big givers through charity. Bill Gates has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while Mark Zuckerberg donates more than a billion dollars to charity every year. And so, Jason Buzi, a real estate investor from Palo Alto, has thought up the next Silicon Valley charity cause: creating a nation for refugees.
Jason was “shocked that no one was talking about this as a solution”. As a result, he has created the crowdfunding project Refugee Nation.
The project proposes a solution to the problem of 60 million refugees worldwide: create a place where refugees from all walks of life can live in harmony.
Jason suggests four possible ideas: using undeveloped land in a pre-existing nation, buying an island from an island-based nation, asking a sovereign and sparsely populated country to allow the free settling of refugees, or most preposterously, to build an island in international waters.
Refugee Nation’s potential pathways to these end goals require the support of powerful brokers – billionaires, celebrity causes, the United Nations, or major governments – all of whom should have enough moral outrage to support the formation of a new nation, with government, economy, and requisite culture. Helpfully, the project’s report does suggest alternative ideas like abolishing immigration restrictions, ending existing armed conflicts, distributing refugees through fixed quotas, or simply providing permanent residence to refugees in their host countries.
The project itself is highly Pollyannaish. Notwithstanding the noble intentions to an issue that is fast growing but hardly gains proportional media coverage, the goal of forming a new nation is logistically nightmarish, and politically infeasible. After all, the United Nations only granted recognition to South Sudan after more than a decade of civil war and still is unable to grant recognition to politically fraught cases like Kosovo, Palestine, and Western Sahara. Even gaining the support of providing aid to refugees sparks furor at perceived interference in other nations’ domestic issues, such as in the case of Syria. Or causes domestic issues in the nation itself, such as with the European Union’s resistance to allow more refugees.
But beyond the outlandish political response to such an idea, it is hard to accept the logistical and ethical feasibility of such a situation. The very idea of providing a new nation to people unwilling to be there is almost laughable. Refugees, by their nature, do not seek alternate lodging because they inherently dislike their home country – they are displaced by issues of war, natural disaster, or disease. Placing them in a country that depends on their presence for its existence is dangerous, not in the least because it reduces the mobility of these refugees should they be able to return to their home nations. And it provides an escape plan to politicians unwilling to provide the more realistic, more humane policy of putting them in a country with true infrastructure and the resources for these refugees to highlight their plight and fight for the situation in their home countries to be resolved.
Many refugees seek to return home – to a place that is at one with their culture, language, and heritage. Creating a new and separate nation is the complete opposite and would serve as an ethical “alternate solution” that justifies preventing more humane immigration policies domestically.
Most important, however, is the simple fact that much of what Silicon Valley does intends to break things, but inevitably breaches a new frontier of policy – one that will bring about backlash and mistrust of intentions, much in the same way the government and many consumers reacted to Uber and Airbnb. Except this time, the backlash will have more to do with human lives than ever before.
The facts are simple: the goal is noble, but the solution infeasible.
If Silicon Valley has learned anything, it will use its charity and nobility for a solution that is amenable to the political establishment, especially in the loaded world of immigration and the aftermaths of wars.
NB: The IPF’s opinion articles are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily endorsed by the IPF.