Growing refugees, a shame on us

Refugee problem has become a global crisis. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ latest Global Trends: World at War, a staggering 59.5 million people were forced to flee their homes in search of safety in 2014, more than ever recorded in the past and up from 37.5 million in 2005 and 51.2 million in 2013. One in every 122 humans is now either internally displaced, a refugee or an asylum seeker. The soaring refugee numbers isn’t surprising given the large and growing number of armed conflicts and wars world-wide. Syria has replaced Afghanistan as the largest source of refugees, accounting for 11.6 million of the world’s displaced in 2014. Asia, which has long led the world as a refugee triggering region, saw a 31 per cent rise in 2014.

 While the statistics are stunning, they do not reveal the full extent of human suffering. Being displaced is not just about losing one’s home but also about loss of livelihood, identity and security. It often means staring at a near-hopeless future. Thousands of people from North Africa who fled fighting at home and crossed the Mediterranean Sea in the hope of a more secure future in Europe either drowned, were shot dead or turned back by hostile European immigration authorities and populations. It is a perilous journey that often ends disastrously. Closer home, thousands of stateless Rohingyas are adrift in choppy seas without food or drinking water, unwelcome everywhere. Still worse off are the internally displaced. Unlike refugees whose well-being is the responsibility of the UNHCR, the fate of the internally displaced lies in the hands of their own government, which more often than not is the cause of their suffering and the source of the violence that forced them to flee. They can expect little help from those responsible for their discrimination or persecution. Then there are those who are forced to leave their homes on account of development projects or environmental degradation. They get neither sympathy nor succour.

Several countries are blaming human traffickers and people smugglers for the plight of refugees. While it is true that traffickers have little concern for well-being of the ‘human cargo’ they transport, governments cannot absolve themselves of responsibility. It is their hostile approach, which often involves fencing and militarisation of borders, even shooting down those who land on their shores or enter illegally that is compounding refugees’ plight. A more humane approach is needed. Besides, the burden of hosting refugees must be shared by the international community.

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