Global refugee crisis: When will we wake up

The United Nations refugee agency has released statistics that show the number of displaced people around the world has reached more than 60 million people. That means one in every 122 people on the planet is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. And while this is reportedly the highest level of displaced people ever recorded, there is profound apathy in global responses to the refugee crisis. While UNHCR head Antonio Guterres told the BBC that the “world is a mess”, stricken with conflicts which are causing the crisis with no clear end in sight, he also mentioned how the lack of a humanitarian response is a major impediment in cleaning up the mess.

The statistics are grim. The report says that 59.5 million people were displaced by the end of 2014, which included 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million internally displaced people and 1.8 million still awaiting the outcome of asylum claims. Of these numbers, a staggering 50% of the refugees were children. Almost 86 per cent of all refugees are in the developing countries, which lack the infrastructure and resources to tackle the challenge.

One of the worst hit areas is of course Syria, which alone contributed to 3.9 million refugees and 7.6 million internally displaced persons of the total. With the conflict remaining intractable, the situation is not likely to ease anytime soon.

The Mediterranean crisis

The Mediterranean/ European refugee crisis has been highlighted over the past few months, with ugly incidents like the April boat disaster where over 800 refugees died when their boat ran aground off the Libyan coast. Hundreds have drowned as they flee tyranny and poverty in their home countries in unseaworthy overloaded boats, the passage in which often costs people their live’s savings. The numbers for this year’s drownings are 30 times higher than for last year. As per the HRW, over 3,200 died in 2014, and the death toll in the first four months of 2015 was at least 1,750.

In a stance bordering racism and ethno phobia, right-wing hardliners (who are gaining a majority in the EU parliament) have taken the stand that Europe has its own problems to deal with and will not be opening up its doors to all those fleeing due to the threat they pose to the stability of European nations. 

Italy and Greece, which are the frontline states for  migration, are reeling under the pressure. While resettling refugees in the economic powder keg that Greece is, is a major concern, in Italy, local authorities have been battling with central government orders to accommodate the large flow of refugees. Reportedly, 20 mayors threatened to resign or occupied buildings to block the arrival of migrants sent by the government. Recently, following the comments of Italian Prime Minister Renzi who said that given Europe’s inadequate response to the crisis (the controversial quota plan for asylum seekers, UK has already stated it will opt out), he had an alternative plan which would “hurt Europe”, the Independent ran an article saying that Italy would “let loose” refugees in the EU. The use of such terms capture the high handedness with which Europe sees those fleeing terror. Even if Europe overlooks its historical obligation to war-ravaged West Asia and North Africa (centuries of exploitation thorough colonialism, creation of artificial borders, racism, slave trade, puppet regimes, collusion with US in ‘war on terror’), it needs to still comply with the international obligations under human rights instruments, to which most of the countries are signatories.

Instead of fence-sitting on the issue, a strong global response is needed. In a recent report titled ‘The global refugee crisis: a conspiracy of neglect’, Amnesty International calls this crisis a defining challenge of the century. The startling figures should be a wake-up call for a world already reeling under terrorist threats and environmental degradation.

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