NEW YORK CITY: Last month, the UN observed World Refugee Day against the backdrop of a grim new milestone: the number of people who have been driven from their homes by war, persecution, violence and human rights violations now stands at more than 100 million.
The figure is just one of many sobering numbers in the UN refugee agency’s recently released Global Trends Report.
The report shows that five countries – Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar – account for more than two-thirds of the world’s displaced people.
People forced to move within their own country – known as internally displaced persons (IDPs) – make up the majority of the forcibly displaced population. Syria and Yemen, along with Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo and Colombia, continue to host the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
Unless current conflicts are resolved and the eruption of new ones prevented, the UN report warns that the 21st century will be defined by growing numbers of people forced to flee and growing options limitations available to them.
Population movements around the world have become so complex that aid agencies are scrambling to find new ways to deal with the ongoing mass exodus. People are not only fleeing violence, but also economic inequality as the global wealth gap continues to widen.
Changes in weather patterns and resulting droughts, floods and natural disasters have displaced even more. The food security crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine now threatens a new wave.
“The nature of these flows is now so complicated that the (aid) responses have also become complicated, difficult to organize and manage, and exposed to manipulation by unscrupulous politicians who demonize both the flows and the responses, saying it’s impossible (to take in refugees), and so the real answer is, as we hear in many places, ‘close the borders and push people back,'” said Filippo Grandi, the high commissioner United Nations Refugee Agency, at a recent conference attended by Arab News.
The number of displaced people around the world has increased every year for the past 10 years, approaching 90 million by the end of 2021, more than double the figure for 2001. Most of the refugees came from Syria, Venezuela and other countries. Afghanistan.
This number has also been propelled by new waves of violence and conflict in countries such as Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Congo.
The war in Ukraine has resulted in the fastest and one of the largest displacements since World War II. In just four months, nearly 7 million Ukrainians have fled their country, overtaking the Syrian crisis which, in 12 years, has displaced more than 6 million Syrians.
Grandi hailed the “quite extraordinary” humanitarian response to the conflict in Ukraine. However, the Italian humanitarian, who began his current role at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, lamented the difference in international response between the two conflicts.
“If you are well funded in Ukraine, Poland or the EU, it is not the same in many other situations. We have Ethiopia at the end of 2020 and into 2021. We had the situation in Afghanistan in the summer of last year,” Grandi said, adding that the crises in Syria, South Sudan and in Palestine have aggravated the growing number of refugees.
“From Bangladesh to Colombia, we have a dozen operations where I’m very concerned about underfunding,” he said. “It’s important to hammer home and hammer home the message that Ukraine cannot be the only humanitarian response.”
When in 2015 hordes of desperate Syrian refugees fleeing fighting in Aleppo showed up at Europe’s doorstep, Grandi said European leaders told him: “It’s full. We can’t take anyone anymore.
“A boat of about 40 people arrives in Sicily and (leaders) bicker on the phone about who is taking how many and for how long,” he said. “And now, all of a sudden, how is it possible that in six weeks, 7 million people come in and are taken? There were issues but overall they were met generously, efficiently and protectively.
“Now I’m not naïve,” Grandi said, “I fully understand the context. I understand that it’s not always like that. But it certainly proves an important point: what to respond to the influx of refugees, the arrival of desperate people on the shore or at the borders of rich countries, is not unmanageable, it is in fact manageable effectively, but there must be political will.
Such political will towards the 1.3 million Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Europe in 2015 was largely non-existent, and these refugees were often met with vitriol and hatred, even from senior government officials.
Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister, described asylum seekers as “poisons” and “Muslim invaders”.
“There is no chance – we are going to send you back. This continent will not be your homeland, you have your own homeland. This is our homeland, we built it,” Orban said in 2015.
Also in 2015, Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician, compared the influx of refugees to the barbaric invasion of Rome, British pre-minister David Cameron called the fleeing refugees a “swarm”, and then Polish Prime Minister Jarosław. Kaczyński accused the migrants of carrying diseases.
This attitude towards refugees and migrants was not abandoned in 2015. In 2020, Matteo Salvini, former Italian Deputy Prime Minister, claimed that African migrants bring diseases such as tuberculosis and scabies to Italy. However, during a Facebook live stream in March this year, Salvini pledged to fly Ukrainian refugees to Italy.
Grandi said: “Of course, if you hammer home public opinion that the people who are coming in are going to steal your job, threaten your security and destroy your values, public opinion will not turn positively towards the (incoming immigrants). “
The fact that European leaders did not use such rhetoric against Ukrainians positively predisposed public opinion towards those who came to seek refuge, Grandi said.
“It’s the attitude: Be constructive. Carry the message that politicians have sent about Ukrainians: that they are people in need.
“People flee because they are afraid. It’s not just Ukrainians. The Syrians fled the bombs. The people of Tigray have fled the bombs, the people of the Sahel are fleeing the bombs or the vicious attacks. Fleeing insecurity is the same whether you are Ukrainian or Nicaraguan. And I think it’s important to continue to get that message across.
The UNHCR report dispelled common perceptions that refugee crises only affect wealthy countries, or what is commonly referred to as the global north. In fact, more than 80% of refugees worldwide have fled to poor and middle-income countries.
“No one has heard of the 150,000 Nicaraguans hosted by Costa Rica,” Grandi said. “And yet, it’s a big problem for Costa Rica.”
Many Western countries see refugee crises as a problem they are not obliged to solve, even though many of the solutions now depend on an agreement between the West and Russia, including diplomatic engagement, at the following the war in Ukraine, has practically happened. to a sudden stop.
“The scars on international cooperation from these fractures between the West and Russia, between the great powers in the Security Council, are such that it will take a long time to heal them. And yet, if that’s not cured, I don’t know how we’re going to handle these global crises,” Grandi said.
The preamble to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person who “no longer enjoys the protection and assistance” of his or her own country, and who is therefore the responsibility of the international community in his outfit.
“The interesting thing,” Grandi said, “is that donors understand very well that there can be no inequality in response.”
Perhaps no other recent example exemplifies this abdication of responsibility on the part of the West as much as Britain’s ‘Rwanda Plan’, a plan to airlift anyone crossing the English Channel without permission into Rwanda. to be treated there.
Under the plan, the UK will pay into an “Economic Transformation and Integration Fund” from the Rwandan government and fund each immigrant for resettlement and temporary accommodation.
“We don’t support this deal,” Grandi said. “All of this is false (and) in contrast to the generosity displayed towards Ukrainians.
“It is the basis of the right to asylum that people who are on the territory of a country (receive protection), especially if this country is a signatory to the convention and has the necessary institutions (asylum seekers) . Exporting this responsibility to another country runs counter to any notion of international responsibility sharing.
He added: “The UK says we are doing this to save people from dangerous journeys. Let me doubt it a bit. Saving people from a dangerous journey is great. But is this the real motivation for this agreement to materialize? I do not think so. But I think if really the UK and other countries wanted this dangerous travel to stop, then there are other ways to do it.
Grandi said the program is a “new layering ball game in Rwanda”, a country which, despite hosting tens of thousands of Congolese and Burundian refugees, lacks the structures to carry out refugee status determination – structures that are well in place in England.
“I made it clear to Priti Patel: this deal makes our job very difficult,” Grandi said, referring to the UK home secretary. “The precedent this sets is catastrophic.”
Asked if the ongoing global food security crisis was likely to push more people out of their homes, Grandi said he “couldn’t imagine how” it could be otherwise.
He concluded that although he called on the world to help with the consequences of the conflict, “the problem must be solved at the root and the war must be stopped.” Negotiations must resume.