By Ankita Nawalakha:
He is sixteen. Once he was a bright student who dreamt of becoming an engineer and living a lavish life. Today, he is the sole bread earner of a family of five – his mother and four siblings. He works at a plastic factory and the meager income he earns is just enough to pay for the room his family stays in.
This is Omar, a refugee from Syria who came to Lebanon because of the civil war in his country. Omar’s father was killed in a blast outside their very home. When it seemed that the war would never end, his mother fled from Syria to Lebanon along withÂ the family. However, Omar’s is only one of the 50 million stories. Yes! The number of people forced to flee their homes across the world has exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War, an exponential rise that is stretching host countries and aid organisations to breaking point.
So, who are refugees?
To be precise, a refugee is a person who is outside their home country because they have suffered (or feared) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, because they are a member of a persecuted ‘social group’ or because they are fleeing a war. Refugees can either be cross border refugees or be internally displaced from a part of country to the other.
What problems do refugees face?
The worldwide total of 51.2 million forcibly displaced represents a huge number of people in need of help, with implications both for foreign aid budgets in the world’s donor nations and the absorption and hosting capacities of countries on the front lines of refugee crises. Many of those crossing borders fall into the hands of increasingly sophisticated people-trafficking gangs. These networks of trafficking and smuggling become more and more international, multinational, and linked to other forms of international criminality, such as guns and drugs.
The behaviour of various refugee groups become more and more vicious. Cases of rape, torture, sexual exploitation, organ harvesting, extortion and murder are increasing at an unabated rate.
Most refuges go through a severe identity crisis, fitting in with a totally new culture amidst very difficult living conditions gets to most people. Psychologists warn of unspoken mental health epidemic. Almost everyone is suffers from PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is manifesting itself in violent ways. Every day there are reports of domestic violence, child abuse and hostilities between people and communities. Additionally, there are severe health issues. AIDS, Malaria and other infectious diseases are more than common in refugee camps. Most importantly, most war refugees spend a hopeless and purposeless life, with no hope of returning back home.
Which countries are the biggest source and home of refugees?
Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care and by source country are Afghans, Syrians and Somalis — together accounting for more than half of the global refugee total. Despite their relative economic disadvantage, developing countries are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Pakistan the top five refugee hosting countries. n 2013, at least 435,000 people sought asylum in the EU, but just 136,000 people were granted it.
The globe’s self-styled leaders are lagging far-behind the developing world when it comes to bearing the burden of the global refugee crisis. Given the economic advantages rich countries have over poor, it’s doubly shocking to see them shirking their responsibility to protect refugees to such a ridiculous extent — this must end. Despite the low number of refugees they have to deal with, countries in the developed world often subject refugees and asylum seekers to rights abuses. Greece frequently metes out violence and intimidation to the refugees and migrants arriving at its borders in search of protection, safety and better futures in Europe. Amnesty International has documented several cases where people have been stripped naked, had their possessions stolen, and held at gunpoint before being pushed back across the border to Turkey.
Who is at fault and what needs to be done?
Playing the blame game is difficult- who is to be blamed? The government, UN or Humanitarian agencies? Its often argued that humanitarian agencies are not doing enough to protect the interests of refugees. Though every word is true, we cannot forget that the humanitarian agencies do only the patch-up work. What they do is provide temporary solutions – food, shelter, water, medical facilities etc.. What needs to be done is to end wars, civilian conflicts and discrimination that drive people out of their country in the first place. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.
The government of respective countries and United Nations Security Councils must ensure fast and orderly resolution of conflicts. The solutions needs to come from the grass-root level and not from discussions in fancy halls and air-conditioned rooms. While diplomats debate points of order, houses are being burned to the ground and families forced on the run. Long delays and vetoed resolutions are plaguing the supposed ‘strong arm’ of the UN. Apathy, political alliances and point-scoring must cease when it comes to decision-making at the Security Council.
Today is the world refugee day and the need of the hour is that the issue of refugee must be given adequate attention by Governments, UN agencies and humanitarian organisations. Rehabilitation, relocation and re-sending of refuges back to their country must become a priority. Otherwise we will have many more Omar’s, we will have more of dreams that are killed, childhoods that are thwarted.