A better future for refugees
dramatic pictures we have seen on TV recently of migrants hanging on for
life on capsized boats of the Mediterranean highlights one major social
issue - people fleeing conflict zones in their thousands for safety and
security in other countries. In 2015 alone, more than 5,400 people died
in these treacherous journeys to find asylum. In the first five months
of 2016, at least 2,776 people lost their lives in search of refuge,
putting the tragedy in this year on the path to exceed that of the
previous one. The world is now witnessing the worst such crisis since
World War II.
Millions if people are displaced from their homes each year due to
conflict or causes such as famine and climate change. These people are
often called refugees, though definitions vary. Tomorrow, (June 20)
World Refugee Day, Governments around the world will focus on this major
A refugee is someone who has fled his or her home and country owing
to "a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race,
religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or
political opinion", according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee
Convention. Many refugees are also in exile to escape the effects of
natural or human-made disasters.
We also have to take into consideration asylum seekers and Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs) - people who are displaced within their own
countries often due to conflict, as we have witnessed in Sri Lanka
itself. (The authorities have resettled most of them). Sri Lanka does
have some refugees who live in India and efforts are underway to bring
them down. In fact, some families have already returned to Sri Lanka on
On the other hand, asylum seekers have fled their homes as refugees
do, but mainly for economic or political reasons. Most asylum seekers
claim they are persecuted in their own countries for various reasons,
but in reality some of them could be seeking a better life elsewhere.
These economic migrants are known to pay huge sums to human traffickers
for passage to developed countries such as Australia.
There is a third category - Stateless Persons - who do not have a
recognised nationality and do not belong to any country. Their lack of
identification - a citizenship certificate - can exclude them from
access to important government services, including health care,
education or employment. Finally, returnees are former refugees who
return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile.
Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure
that they can rebuild their lives at home. However, many long-standing
conflicts remained unresolved, and the number of refugees who were able
to return home last year was the lowest in over three decades.
Protracted asylum situations now last for an average of 25 years.
At the end of 2014, 59.5 million persons - the highest number on
record - were forcibly displaced around the globe. This means that one
in every 122 human beings today is either a refugee, internally
displaced or seeking asylum. Developing countries host four-fifths of
the world's refugees. An estimated 43.3 million people worldwide were
forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution. Among refugees and
people in refugee-like situations, children constituted 46 per cent of
Nearly one million applications for asylum or refugee status are
submitted in 171 countries or territories annually. Last year and this
year have seen a record surge in applications due to the migrant crisis
in Europe. The number of internally displaced persons, benefitting from
UN High Commission for Refugees' protection and assistance activities,
exceeds 15 million. UNHCR has also identified some 3.5 million stateless
people in 64 countries. However, the actual number of stateless persons
worldwide was estimated at up to 12 million.
The 48 Least Developed Countries provide asylum to 2.3 million
refugees. In fact, 86 per cent of all refugees live in the countries of
the developing world, which are struggling to feed their own citizens,
leave alone refugees from other countries. According to a recent Oxfam
report, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan and the Occupied Palestinian
Territories host a staggering 50 percent of the world's refugees, even
though they make up less than 1.5 percent of the world's economy.
Jordan, which has a population of just 8.1 million, is hosting a
staggering 2,781,463 refugees, or one refugee for every roughly three
people. Following closely behind, Lebanon, which has a population of
just 6.2 million, is hosting 1,625,057 refugees, or one refugee for
every roughly four people.
The five wealthiest countries - which make up half the global economy
- are hosting less than 5 percent of the world's refugees. Together, the
U.S., China, Japan, the U.K. and Germany are hosting less than 1 million
refugees. Rich countries must clearly do more and the UN says that
international solidarity and burden-sharing are crucial in meeting the
needs of displaced communities as well as their hosts.
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951
Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They are the
only global legal instruments explicitly covering the most important
aspects of a refugee's life. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon
recently pointed out, "When managed properly, accepting refugees is a
win for everyone. Refugees are famously devoted to education and
self-reliance. They bring new skills and dynamism to workforces that in
some parts of the world are ageing rapidly". According to their
provisions, refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of
treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in
many cases, the same treatment as nationals.
However, this is not always forthcoming. Many countries are reluctant
to host migrants and refugees as a matter of policy and extremist
politicians and politicians also incite the native populations to turn
against refugees. In March, the E.U. and Turkey reached an agreement to
deport refugees and migrants in Europe en masse to Turkey. Other
countries have cited this anti-refugee position to justify their own
policies. In May, Kenya closed the Dadaab camp for refugees, arguing
that, if Europe was allowed to turn away Syrians, it could turn away
Somalis. Greece too closed a major transit camp for migrants recently.
The UN has just issued a report in preparation for the September
General Assembly meeting, in which it has called for a global agreement
on resettling 10 per cent of refugees annually. This is not an
unrealistic target by any means and the rich countries which have so far
shied away from directly addressing this serious problem must make an
additional commitment to share the burden with their counterparts in the