Travelling from one city to another as a tourist, and migrating from one place to another for better economic opportunities, are two different things. But leaving one’s homeland behind due to war, persecution or natural disaster is a life-threatening situation for any human on this planet.
In the past few years, we have heard horrifying news of people across the globe taking asylum in neighboring countries or in countries where they can breathe peacefully. Many of these people have often been forced to leave their loved ones and everything they possessed. They are not even sure if they will ever be able to reunite with their families or not. Reading and hearing about asylum seekers in different countries made me do a minor research on this topic which helped me in understanding the difference between a ‘refugee’ and an ‘asylum seeker’. In the course of this research, I also came across terms like ‘internally displaced person (IDP)’ and ‘stateless person’.
The United Nations (UN) has specifically defined each term and the necessary actions to be taken for them. According to the UN, a ‘refugee’ is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” On the other hand, they define an ‘asylum seeker’ as follows – “When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance.”
In 1951, the Refugee Convention was documented in Geneva mainly to protect European refugees after World War II. Later, the convention was expanded as the problem of displacement spread across the globe. These are facts that have been documented at a global level to help or assist the homeless. There are also events in history where an individual or a family was declared as a refugee overnight, and then forced to leave their homeland.
World War I, World War II, the partition of India and Pakistan, the struggle against colonialism and the wars of liberation especially in Africa, the Central African Republic (CAR) war, the Iraq emergency, the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, the South Sudan emergency, the Syrian emergency since 2011 – I’m sure that I have missed out other such events here. In the above instances, people have crossed international borders to seek shelter, and were then termed as ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seekers’.
In cases of IDPs, the exodus of a particular community or group takes place within the country’s borders – generally due to natural calamities or militant attacks. However, they are not protected under the Refugee Convention Law. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s was one such grave example of IDPs. In my opinion, all these dire instances where people were forced to leave their homeland (be it within their country or by crossing borders) carry the same anguish and unbearable distress.
After reading so many heartbreaking stories, there were a whole set of questions which troubled me. Why are we humans doing this? For what purpose are we doing this? How can a human kill another human? Finally, who all are doing this?
In the instances I have cited above, we will observe the wars were waged either to capture and rule other countries or to kill particular communities (for religious or racial domination, or to just spread violence across the land). All these activities were not enough for them – they even handed weapons to innocent people.
Majorly, these exoduses have taken place in developing or under-developed countries, where the citizens already struggle to survive with minimum amenities. Now, when they are forced to flee, how can it be ‘child’s play’ for them to travel through borders and land in a country where everything is alien? Apart from security, there are more pressing concerns here.
1. Communication Barrier: Where people, who in their entire lifetime have never heard of another language, have to learn a foreign language, so that they can at least understand or fulfill their basic requirements of staying in the foreign land.
2. Rebuilding: Here, they just don’t have to rebuild their career or their nest – they also have to rebuild their dead confidence, lost identity and revive their zeal to live.
3. Patience: To have the patience to return to their homeland, and rest in peace with their loved ones.
4. Hope: For a better future than their present lives. Hope to meet sensitive humans and not maniacs.
5. Courage: To face any situation that will come their way in an alien land.
6. Belief: In their destiny – and if they can survive such a grave situation, they can surpass anything that comes their way.
During my research work, I also came across many facts about the UN and different NGOs who have taken a step forward to help homeless people. Not only are they providing shelter, they are also giving space and encouragement for the people to start their economic activities.
But are these initiatives only being tested in areas where war has already erupted, due to which millions have fled their homeland? In my opinion, the answer is no. These are also being tested in countries where people are ‘seeking asylum’ from issues such as economic pressures, property problems and unemployment.
In countries where the number of refugees has been growing, education facilities (especially for kids) and basic necessities like water, electricity, healthcare and food is going scarce for these people. These are not the only concerns for the countries who are giving asylum – the growth of jihad and extremism, against the backdrop of refugee influx, have also been issues of concern for governing bodies in the nations of West Europe and North America.
Additionally, many countries were forced to close their borders as they were unable to accommodate the population of the refugees entering the nations. Countries providing asylum can just hope that all the refugees are able to return to their homeland soon. But going by the current scenario, the rehabilitation of people in war-affected areas may well take over a decade. Certainly, this has been the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in history, where over 60 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced.
It’s encouraging to know that there are countries which have helped refugees learn the local language and are also providing earning opportunities for them. In urban areas in some countries, governing bodies have made a point to transform the refugee population into a productive one.
I would like to end with the thought that we need more humans who consider humanity as their religion. It seems that many human brains are filled with inventing all kinds of destructive weapons, often in the name of religion. This needs to take a backseat immediately.