The Forgotten Global Refugees: An Overlooked Tragedy

June 2019 began with so many deaths across the world for various reasons, some hundreds getting massacred in Sudan and many young, malnourished children dying of Encephalitis in Bihar. The unlawful detention of people by the foreigners’ tribunal in Assam, Rohingya refugees in neighboring states getting rescued by officials from child abuse, human trafficking etc., are some of the common news headlines that one comes across on a daily basis. More than seven million Rohingyas migrated from the Rakhine state in Myanmar towards Bangladesh in August 2017. Today, most of them stay in refugee camps near Cox’s Bazaar, in Bangladesh. Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Ukhia, Chittagong is the most famous one. Many UN Goodwill ambassadors have visited these camps including Priyanka Chopra and Gigi Hadid, who paid a visit to some of the camps in Cox’s Bazaar last year.

Image via Getty

Bangladesh is trying extremely hard to cater to the basic human needs of the Rohingya refugees. And because Bangladesh is a country of low lying flood plains, there are added problems of an appalling and recurring cycle of floods and cyclones every year, further turning the refugees into victims of climate hazards. Almost all of them undertake a journey packed with perils crossing the Naf River from Myanmar to Bangladesh. They cross through boats, some swim; many make it, and many die on the journey. If one looks up for images of the Rohingya crisis on the internet, they will come across many heartbreaking photographs.

Let’s not forget Syria along with Iraq, which has faced one of the worst humanitarian crises of this decade at the behest of the barbaric ISIS. Hundreds and thousands of people tried to flee their home country, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and making it to Europe. While most of them crossed and made it via illegal means or as smugglers, many others could not as their boats capsized and they drowned. In September 2015, the image of a three-year-old boy named Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach, drew worldwide attention to the global refugee crisis.

Many Yazidis were killed at the hands of ISIS, who were determined to conduct an ethnic cleansing because Yazidis do not have a holy book and have distinct religious beliefs and practices. They are a small ethnic and religious minority which has roots originating from Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion preceding Christianity. They mostly speak Kurdish and are concentrated in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The ISIS has targeted many religious minority groups, but the treatment of Yazidis, in particular, has been extreme, fraught with sexual violence, human trafficking, the killing of children and male members, which are all tactics of terrorism.

Propaganda plays a huge role. The ISIS published journals and pamphlets which were distributed among the people providing ideological justifications to committing such heinous crimes. Nadia Murad, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege in December 2018, is a Yazidi woman. She is also the first Iraqi ever to win a Noble Prize. Nadia is a courageous woman who has endured unimaginable tragedy and degradation through sexual enslavement to ISIS.

Six of her brothers were killed, and her mother died a little later; their bodies swept into mass graves. But she has fought back, and today she is a human rights activist who lives in Germany. There are hundreds and thousands of women and girls like Nadia, and today many of them have started life from scratch, are resilient and determined to make it through, even though they suffer a backlash from certain communities and countries, because one cannot ignore that there have been crimes committed by the immigrants as well.

The ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela has almost brought the whole country to the streets. With oil becoming cheaper than water and rising prices of bread, today, most of Venezuelan women and children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Many of them have fled to neighbouring Columbia while many others have gone to Spain and other European nations. This is happening in a country which has the largest oil reserves in the world, and has a reputation of producing the maximum number of beauty pageant title holders!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s also not forget the immediate refugee crisis brought about by the Partition of British India, which displaced millions of people on both the sides of the border and took nearly six years after independence to counter. It’s said to be one of the most disturbing episodes in modern day history which displaced the highest number of people just after the Holocaust! Several memoirs have been written, and many films and documentaries have been made, but the pain of separation is still there among those who witnessed partition.

I have tried interacting with many octogenarians, and even today, they get teary-eyed when reminded of Lahore, Sindh or other towns of the Pakistani province of Punjab. There are many migrated families from Pakistan—staying in central and western parts of Delhi in present times—who started their lives from nothing. Their endurance over the years kept them alive. It is true that such episodes in history create hate among communities, mostly religious strife and promotes ghettoisation which is bad in the long run—because it defeats the very idea of integration and assimilation among the larger society.

Often in many cases, while one community flourishes, the other community struggles even to get basic amenities. While some areas become the epitome of progress, luxury and cleanliness, the other areas somehow fail every time to remain just ‘clean’ mostly due to the collective failure of local governments and citizens. Often, these ‘failed areas’ in the eyes of many get pushed to the peripheries of the large cities becoming walled, getting disconnected, disrupted and disassociated from the essential and accessible areas of the main city.

Just a few days ahead of June 20, which is celebrated as World Refugee Day, UNHCR declared that more than 70 million people have been displaced worldwide. Within this 70 million figure, UNHCR categorizes them into three main groups:

The first group is the refugees or people who have been forced to leave their home countries because of conflict, war or persecution. The second group is of those classified as asylum seekers i.e. people outside their country of origin and receiving international protection, but awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. These two groups together amount to nearly 30 million displaced people worldwide. Around half of the world’s asylum seekers are children, many being unaccompanied minors. They are often stuck for years in refugee camps in host countries which are unable to absorb the high numbers of incoming people. The third and biggest group, at over 41 million, is people displaced to other areas within their own country, a category commonly referred to as Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

The refugee crisis is a very complex issue worldwide, and countries get caught in the debate whether to accept them or not. The issues vary for most of the developed west and developing east. Developing countries have their own homegrown issues of an ever-increasing population and poverty, and most of them live in the rural areas with impending problems of gender-based violence, low education levels, farm crises further aggravating the issue of climate change, unemployment among the youth, to name a few. On top of that, accepting refugees gets problematic as there is a massive competition for resources. There is anger among the natives, what if they become minorities in their own land? What if migrants and refugees snatch their jobs?

Many developed countries have taken in refugees and asylum seekers, albeit many of them are getting subjected to hate crimes for belonging to a particular country or faith. And this is indeed a vicious cycle fraught with anxiety, mental trauma. We need to have empathy and collective responsibility of shared goals for the greater good. Only time will tell. So does time heal? Or does time creates a lag and helps one forget memories from the past? For no one wants to get displaced from their homes or countries. There will always be one corner of the heart which will long to go back to one’s roots!

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