Forced flight

A UN report on forced migration says that the number of people who were displaced by the end 2012 is higher than at any time since 1994. According to Global Trends, an annual report released by the UN high commissioner for refugees, the number of people who were displaced either internally or across borders crossed 45.2 million last year. The figures are worrying as they show the displacement crisis is growing in magnitude.

 Armed conflict is the main reason why people flee their homes, the report says, attributing last year’s surge in numbers to the deepening Syrian civil war. A handful of countries accounts for the majority of the displaced; 55 per cent of all displaced come from five war-engulfed countries - Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, with Afghanistan continuing to ‘produce’ the largest number of displaced, a position it has held for over three decades.

The UN Report provides insights too into the unhelpful attitude of the world’s rich towards refugees. They gripe the most about refugees ‘flooding’ their countries and have erected all kinds of barriers to keep refugees out, although they are obliged to admit refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to which they are signatories. Contrast this with the generosity of the developing countries, many of whom are not signatories to international refugee conventions. Although not legally obliged to do so, they are hosting 81 per cent of the world’s refugees. Of the world’s displaced, 15.4 million are refugees, 9,37,000 asylum-seekers, and 28.8 million are internally displaced. Refugees and internally displaced flee similar violence. However, it is only the former that enjoy protection as a matter of right under international conventions. The UNHCR’s mandate doesn’t extend to the internally displaced and it is their government that is responsible for their rehabilitation.

While the generosity of South Asian countries to refugees is to be applauded, it is time they formalised their commitment to the displaced. They need not sign the flawed 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol. But they need to enact domestic legislation to protect the rights of refugees. What refugees get in host countries should be a matter of right, not the outcome of charity. Such laws would reduce the potential for playing politics over the refugee question. 

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