Early warning systems for refugee crises: Between ideals and practice

Dalia El Fiki, The American University in Cairo AUC


Early warning is often regarded as the solution to complex forced migration questions. The assumption is that if early warning systems are in place, host nations, NGOs and international organisations can prepare for mass influxes. This seemed to be the case with the Turkish government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, where Turkey and its local NGOs seemed prepared for the arrival of Syrian refugees and set up a local legislation to accept Syrians and prepared camps swiftly and promptly. On the other hand, the Egyptian government did not have the same degree of planning in order to accept and manage the arrival of Syrians into its borders. The lack of a clear policy when coupled with domestic instability, minimal coordination with NGOs and a lack of a local legislation all resulted in minimal dedicated services being set up for Syrians. Within this context, most organisations utilize country of origin information and observe indicators such as political terror, human rights violations, GDP and good governance to name a few to predict when forced migration is likely to occur. While all of these indicators presented themselves within the media analysis, it was confirmed that establishing an overarching set of indicators for early warning is flawed. The monitoring of developments should remain on a case-by-case basis, as not all acts of violence for example would result in forced cross border migration. Similarly, early warning systems do not solve the question of when and how governments respond to humanitarian emergencies. It has been found that according to donors and governments, it is best to wait for the actual crisis to occur and allocate a realistic budget, as opposed to one based on hypotheticals that may or may not occur. As such early warning systems within the idealistic realm provide solutions to the problems faced by refugee support agencies, host nations and refugees themselves. However, in reality, early warning alone is not enough to warrant an appropriate response, nor necessary funding to alleviate burdens and strains on host nations, NGOs or refugees.