Maximizing Safety, Minimizing Cost: A Long-Term Solution to Syrian Refugee Crisis Through Optimization


Frist Theatre
The world leaders agree that forced migration will be a permanent challenge to the 21st century. The war in Syria is heading into the eighth year and there is no end to the conflict in sight. However, the current response framework for refugee crises falls short and is designed for temporary periods of human displacement when the average age of refugee camps is 17.

Coming from a country severely affected by the refugee crisis (Turkey) and having Syrian heritage, I have observed how unavailability of resources and uncertainty in this prolonged state of crisis calls for optimization. As the authorities accepted that refugee camps are indeed not short-term solutions, their designs have to be adjusted to this long-term objective that reflects the reality of the situation.

As we couldn't foresee that the refugee camps were going to be long term and will stand through generations and production cycles, they are usually built either very close to the border or in the middle of nowhere, effectively turning refugees in the camps to prisoners having no access to the outside world. However, the cost of establishment, and more importantly, maintenance of the camps should be taken into account when deciding on the location of the refugee camps.

With my research, I attempt to determine the optimal location of refugee camps that will minimize a combination of these costs within political boundaries. The costs and the policy constraints on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and host governments — such as economic activity feasibility, concerns of coexistence with the locals and border security — are represented in terms of distances in the optimization problem. Quantifying these constraints as such and including them in our problem provides political feasibility to an economically efficient solution. Minimizing the cost through finding an optimal solution for the refugee camp location should help the host governments to increase their capacity and will provide safer, more stable and long-term homes to the refugees.