Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 17 June 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Ensuring a new life for refugees, a global challenge

World Refugee Day on June 20:

Did you know that every minute, eight people around the world are forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution? That 43 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes and sometimes, their own countries? With wars and conflicts raging on practically all continents and other modern challenges such as climate change affecting millions of people, we face the bleak prospect of having more refugees in the coming decades.

Who exactly is a refugee? The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spells out that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR stood at 10.5 million refugees at the beginning of 2011, down slightly from a year earlier. A further 4.8 million registered refugees are looked after in 60 camps in the Middle East by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which was set up in 1949 to care for displaced Palestinians. The world's largest source countries (country of origin) for refugees include Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sierra Leone.

Among the countries hosting the highest number of refugees are Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Iran, and Guinea. The largest refugee camp in the world is however located in Kenya - the Dadaab camp in the north-east of the country accommodated over 460,000 refugees at the end of 2011, mostly from Somalia. But this is not the end of the story. People can be displaced in their own countries – they are called Internally Displaced People.

At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 27 million IDPs around the world and UNHCR was helping about 14.7 million of them in 22 countries, including the three with the largest IDP populations - Sudan, Colombia and Iraq. Conflict is not the only reason – natural disasters (and climate change) can cause mass displacement of people, as witnessed during the 2004 tsunami.

Environmental refugees

According to UN predictions, there could be as many as 50 million “environmental refugees” in the next few decades. Sri Lanka has a good track record with regard to the resettlement of those displaced due to conflict and natural disasters.

Only a few hundred people are left to be resettled just three years after a conflict that displaced nearly 300,000. Most, if not all, of tsunami-hit families too have been resettled. There still are Sri Lankan refugees in India, but many of these families have expressed an interest in coming back to the land of their birth. Some have already made that move.

Stateless persons are in another category. In other words, they are people who do not have a country to call their own. According to the UNHCR, statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons including discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislation, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent (state succession) and conflicts of laws between states. Statelessness is a problem that affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide. They are not refugees or IDPs but they too are often denied their rights.

Finally, we often hear the term ‘asylum seekers’, which should not be confused with the term refugee. An asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated. They may be genuinely fleeing their home countries due to a conflict situation or political reasons, but the world is confronting the phenomenon of illegal economic asylum seekers (basically economic migrants) who leave their countries to seek greener pastures in Western nations.

They are known to pay thousands of dollars to human smugglers to take them by boat to affluent countries. There is often no evidence that these persons would be subject to persecution by their home States. Nearly one million people are in the asylum seeker category.

During 2010 - 223,000 asylum seekers were granted refugee status. New applications registered during the year fell by about 10 p.c. to 850,000, by far the largest share originating from Zimbabwe, followed by Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The picture is bleak on all three counts. But it is important not to lose hope, the only thing that drives these unfortunate people to aspire for a better life.

They generally have three choices in this endeavour: repatriation to their home country if and when the conflict (or any other factor that drove them away) is resolved; resettlement (if IDPs) and local integration (either in a foreign country or in another place in their own country).

This year, the World Refugee Day that falls on June 20 focuses on this last category, under the theme “A New Home, A New Life”. The idea is that it is possible to begin a new life in another country, provided that they are granted all their rights by the host country. The World Refugee Day was first marked in 2001, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that established the UNHCR. Nearly 150 countries have signed this Convention.

International law

Refugee status is greatly valued for the rights that it bestows under international law. A refugee is entitled to reside, at least temporarily, in the host country and is protected. This prohibits the deportation of refugees to places where their lives or freedoms could be in danger. Host states are also obliged to offer civil and economic rights, in particular the right to work. Refugees enjoy access to social services and protection of national laws. By contrast, illegal migrant workers have no recourse to international law to enforce their rights.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has warned that factors causing mass population flight are growing and over the coming decade more people on the move will become refugees or displaced within their own country. In comments marking the launch in New York of “The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity,” Guterres said displacement from conflict was becoming compounded by a combination of causes, including climate change, population growth, urbanisation, food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition.

Moreover, 80 percent of today's refugees live in the developing world that does not have additional resources to deal with an extra influx of people. The world has to address this problem through international cooperation and political will.

The UNHCR has suggested providing more resettlement opportunities for refugees in the industrialised world (some countries have a fortress mentality that rejects outsiders, especially genuine refugees), focusing development cooperation projects to foster sustainable voluntary return or local integration, and supporting host communities.

Refugees who are integrated firmly to host communities can indeed begin a new life in a new home and enrich the community in return. They should not necessarily be perceived of as a burden.

The refugee problem is a blot on humanity. But it is unlikely to go away if the world’s conflicts are not resolved or if the world does not face challenges such as climate change.



Casons Rent-A-Car
Millennium City
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
Donate Now |

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Magazine |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2012 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor