By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, July 17: The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order, surged to 103 million in the first half of 2022. In other words, one in 77 people on Earth was forcibly displaced, the UNHCR has said.
55% of the displaced came from three conflict-ridden countries, namely, Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. The majority of these crises situations were manmade. That means that they could have been prevented, says Steven Feldstein, in a piece written for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in October 2017.
“Due to lack of political will, insufficient resources, and moral failure, fighting continues and civilians keep fleeing and dying in record numbers,” Feldstein points out.
The United States is a major cause of this through its military actions and its support for wars in many parts of the world, he says.
Paradoxically, the US has also been the most generous in terms of humanitarian assistance worldwide. It contributed US$ 1.8 billion in 2016 to alleviate crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen and gave US$ 3.8 billion to Syria since the problem began there.
While massive US firepower had turned the tide against ISIS in the Middle East, it also wrought incalculable destruction and displacement. In Syria, 13.5 million, out of a population of 16.6 million, were turned destitute. In 2016, the US dropped about 26,172 bombs on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
Under President Trump, the US dropped 102,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq and Syria alone. In Afghanistan, the UN reported a 67% increase in civilian deaths in the first six months of 2017 due to US airstrikes, compared to the first half of 2016.
US ally Saudi Arabia, bombed Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, creating “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.” Three million Yemenis were displaced. The US was indirectly responsible for this because it gave a U$110 billion arms package to the Saudis.
Worldwide, civilian deaths and injuries from explosives increased by over 50% between 2011 and 2014. The International Institute for Strategic Studies documented 157,000 deaths due to these explosives in 2016, compared to 56,000 fatalities in 2008.
The US “Leahy Law” prohibits US training and assistance to foreign military units that had committed gross violations of human rights. But it does not cover the sale or transfer of arms. The latter should also be prohibited, Feldstein recommends.
Curbs on Refugees
Apart from pursuing policies that create wars and refugees, the US and the Western powers put curbs on the acceptance of refugees on their soil or exaggerated the problems created by refugees there.
The Trump Administration put the cap on refugees at 45,000, the lowest number any US President had out since Washington first established refugee ceilings in 1980, Feldstein points out.
“Increasing refugee admissions above 110,000 would set an important precedent. It would be a symbolic admission that the US bears a critical measure of responsibility for the global humanitarian crisis. It would also demonstrate to domestic audiences that fighting wars abroad has real consequences and force US communities to wrestle directly with the implications of armed interventions,” he recommends.
Direction of Flow
There is a wrong belief that refugees invariably flock to advanced Western countries. The truth is that nearly 70% went to countries bordering their troubled lands, lands that are poor, The Guardian points out.
British Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has described the refugee influx into the UK as an “invasion” but it is not, the paper argues.
“About 46,000 people used small boats to seek asylum in Britain in 2022, up from 9,000 in 2020. While 46,000 may appear large, it pales by comparison with the enormous challenge facing Europe as a whole. The number of asylum applications relative to the UK population size remains well below the EU average. In the year ending June 2022, Britain offered asylum or protection to a mere 15,700 people.”
If there is a rush to the Western world, it is not to UK but to the European Union, the paper points out.
“2022 saw 330,000 illegal attempts to breach the EU’s external border, the highest number since the 2016 Syrian refugee crisis. Almost 13 million Ukrainian refugees entered the EU and Moldova following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Balkan route (through countries of the former Yugoslavia) was used by 145,000 “irregulars”, up 136% in 2021. The eastern Mediterranean route via Turkey also saw large increases.”
The Guardian berates the Rishi Sunak government’s efforts to curb immigration. It had paid BP 500 million to the French police to curb Channel crossings but with little or no impact. And like the Rwanda deportation scheme, this was a “crude, inhumane way to dodge moral and legal responsibility.”
Britain is not the only country to raise barriers against refugees. Poland, Bulgaria,Finland and Austria have. Italy and Greece have turned to “pushing back”, resulting in deaths and tragedy in the Mediterranean.
In the US, Joe Biden is reportedly considering Trump-style detentions of migrant families at the US-Mexico border, a practice he previously denounced. Trump’s infamous wall still stands, The Guardian points out.
The paper suggests an alternative refugee policy, “a pan-European approach, in concert with UN agencies, which includes increased foreign aid budgets, improved conflict resolution and a halt to the victimization of refugees by States as well as criminal gangs.”
Refugees An Asset
Refugees are seen as a burden. They are not a burden, say Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, authors of Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World (OUP 2017).
Refugees are a potential source of knowledge, skill, and economic development, not terrorists, Betts and Collier say. As the Sri Lankan refugee rehabilitation worker in India, S.C.Chandrahasan, said: “A refugee is one who has fled from terrorism and war.”
But a fear that refugees could be terrorists or an economic burden on the host countries is entrenched and widespread. They are therefore kept in camps. But the camps are not centers of economic activity or any meaningful activity but of despair, point out Collier and Betts.
“80% of refugees living in camps are trapped there for five years or more. People are born into camps, grow up in camps, and become adults in camps. Without durable solutions, their lives become focused more on survival than hope. Some, in desperation, move to urban areas, where too they are not allowed to work. Receiving little or no aid, they become destitute. Others try to travel to wealthier countries in Europe at substantial risk,” Betts and Collier point out.
But if given basic economic freedoms, like the opportunity to work or start businesses, they can help themselves and contribute to countries that host them, the authors say. This has been proved in Uganda, Rwanda, Jordan and the UK itself (in the case of Asian immigrants from East Africa).
In Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are kept in huge camps in Cox’s Bazaar. The camps have become dens of crime because the refugees are not allowed to go out and work. The Bangladesh government is fixated on repatriating them to Myanmar where they are not even assured of citizenship, let alone economic opportunities
.And the world is also not sending enough aid to keep the refugees fed, housed and clothed in Bangladesh. Nor is the world persuading or forcing Myanmar to accept them and treat them like human beings. Indeed, the Rohingyas are a festering sore in Bangladesh for no fault of theirs.