This time last year the refugee crisis
was at its height. Not surprisingly,
in September the United Nations
General Assembly called for the first
ever summit at the heads of state
and government level to deliberate
the largest movement of refugees
and migrants since the end of the
World War II.
It was a historic opportunity to
come up with a blueprint for an
adequate international response.
Unfortunately it was a missed
opportunity, as we have all learnt
to expect of the international
community in general, and the
United Nations as its representative
organ in particular. Words do
come easy to them, but they are
rarely followed by deeds. By the
end of last year, according to the
UN’s refugee agency the UNHCR,
65.6 million people were forcibly
displaced worldwide as a result
of persecution, conflict, violence
or human rights violations. That
was an increase of 300,000 over
the previous year, and the world’s
forcibly displaced population
remained at a record high.
Displaced people, as a population,
are the most vulnerable group
of human beings. In a world in
which the nation state still rules
supreme, the breakdown of law and
order within the state that causes
displacement or forced migration
leaves millions upon millions of
people exposed to the most horrific
human rights violations. The New
York Declaration that concluded last
year’s summit hit all the right notes.
It made an array of commitments
that should be implemented without
hesitation or delay. They included
protecting the human rights of all
refugees and migrants, with a special
emphasis on the rights of women
and girls, promoting their full,
equal and meaningful participation
in finding solutions. Protection from
sexual and gender-based violence,
education for all children and end of
children’s detention, in addition to
eradicating xenophobia against all
refugees and migrants, were at the
heart of this international manifesto
for refugees and migrants.
Yet the reality nearly a year later
is no better. According to UNHCR,
20 people are forced to flee their
homes every minute. Only last year,
10.3 million people were newly
displaced by conflict or persecution.
Around two-thirds of them were displaced within the borders of
their own countries, a third are new
refugees and asylum-seekers, and
more than half of these are children.
These figures should have sent
tremors through the international
community, followed by the creation
of a clear and comprehensive
humanitarian framework to assist
displaced people. Such a framework
needs at the very least to protect them
from danger, but even this would be
far from satisfactory.
One of the tragic modern phenomena
of displaced people, internally or
externally, is that in many cases it is
no longer temporary. In some cases
people are forced to spend the rest of
their lives away from their place of
origin. This requires a different type
of response which acknowledges that
there is high probability that refugees
will stay in their first place of entry,
or that they will require resettlement
somewhere else for a very long time.
The daily tragedy of people drowning in the Mediterranean
became a lasting and disturbing
image of the misery that pushes
people to risk their lives to escape
conflict, oppression and devastating
poverty. In cases of either emergency
humanitarian crisis or protracted
conflict, it is imperative for states,
international organizations and civil
society to work in full coordination.
Regrettably they fail to do so. Though
there are a multitude of international
organizations, including UN ones, the
international system failed to create
a global governance that can deal
effectively with migration, including
those forced by war, conflict and
natural disasters.
It would be an easy shortcut to
blame all this on incompetence and
inefficiency, but it runs much deeper.
It is a reflection of abysmal suspicion,
or even worse darker sentiment, of
“the other,” even when economic
logic dictates a need for migration.
Recent refugee crises exposed the
best and worst in individuals and
societies. It is mainly neighboring
countries, where 84 percent of
refugees end up staying, that bear
the brunt of dealing with refugees
and almost all of them are developing
countries with restricted resources. In
some countries refugees amount to a
large minority that without adequate
support from wealthier countries
place their resources under severe
strain, not to mention the straining
of delicate ethnic-religious-social
demographic balances. This is the
case for instance in Lebanon where
one person in six is a refugee, or in
Jordan where nearly one tenth of the
population are refugees. Rejection
and national-chauvinism have played
more of a role in affluent parts of the
world. In countries such as Hungary,
Austria and Poland, xenophobia
directed at Syrian refugees, who were
escaping the horror of the civil war,
is at its ugliest. It is more disturbing
considering that this is still happening
within the living memory of the
atrocities of the World War II.
Despite the efforts of many
honorable people in international
organizations and civil society, and
even individuals, who work tirelessly
to alleviate the hardships of displaced
people, there is no international
system that provides a comprehensive
and holistic answer to the complex
and heartbreaking challenges posed
by displaced people. In their time of
great need they find the international
community wanting or unwilling,
and sometimes both.

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