(Sanhita Saikia is a freelance journalist based at New Jersey,
USA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Refugees are people who give up everything that constitutes life – friends, community, home, possessions – and flee to what they hope is safer ground. The world today is facing the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
Choked by violence, conflict and disaster, nearly twice as many people are displaced within their own country or across international borders as 20 years ago. It is unfortunate that most refugees flee to escape human right violations and violence, yet their vulnerable situation exposes them to additional human rights violations and violence.
The images of dead bodies at sea, of drenched refugees on overloaded rickety boats, and of families climbing frantically through border fences made of barbed wire have become iconic in our collective imagination. The very existence of refugees is evidence of the world’s economic and political disparities, proving that many changes need to occur in the world before intractable conflict becomes a thing of the past.
According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the refugee crisis is not about refugees, rather it is about us. It is about sharing a global responsibility and also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism. The situation requires international cooperation in the form of financial, geographic, and political solidarity, which necessitates strong political leadership and public support. Yet the international response lacks cohesiveness, and aid has been far less than what is needed.
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh following a campaign of targeted violence against the community that began in 2017. By the end of the year, there were more than 647,000 new arrivals at makeshift camps in Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees are in desperate need of clean water and sanitation just to stay alive. They joined thousands of other Rohingya who had fled earlier waves of violence and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years but were effectively stripped of their citizenship and made stateless in 1982.
The Syrian civil war has torn the nation apart, killed thousands of people and set back the standard of living by decades. The Syrian refugee crisis remains one of the largest humanitarian crises since the end of World War II. The number of refugees who have fled the country now exceeds five million including more than 2.4 million children, and millions more have been displaced internally, according to the United Nations.
Since 2017, the political crisis and hyperinflation in Venezuela have spurred an exodus of historic proportions. These are the weary, often desperate victims of the worst migration crisis in recent Latin American history. About 4 million Venezuelans have left the country in search of better living conditions. The Venezuela crisis is a man-made one due to the delusional and inhumane policies of the leftwing government .
Poverty, unemployment, water shortages and corruption are the cause of conflict in Yemen. In 2015, half of the country’s inhabitants lived on less than two dollars a day, without access to clean water or adequate sanitation. Of the country’s 29 million inhabitants, 22 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Of these, half are in acute distress and approximately half a million children suffer from acute malnutrition.
Life as a refugee also strongly affects one’s sense of identity. When Afghans fled to Iran in the 1980s, they were exposed to a more conservative form of Islam than they had previously practised. This led to greater pressure on the men to place stricter restrictions on the women in their families. These restrictions included the end of education for women, the imposition of arranged marriages, and in some cases the almost total confinement of women to the home.
One of the largest refugee camps in the world is located in Dadaab, Kenya. The conditions in the camp are horrendous as overpopulation is the biggest problem there. Somalian refugees continue to pour in escaping from the famine that has ravaged their country. The Dadaab complex faces major health concerns like outbreaks of fever, cholera and Hepatitis. The health concerns also stem from the lack of nourishing food. Environmental issues such as flooding destroy their homes in the camps and there are also security issues within the camps, because they are not protected by the Government of Kenya.
While the United States and some European countries are hostile to refugees, Jordan has been doing its part from the outset of the Syrian civil war. Zaatari, the single-largest refugee camp in the world for Syrians fleeing violence, just 10 miles (16 km) from the Syrian border, has been operating since 2012. Roughly 80,000 Syrian refugees currently reside in the camp, but Jordan has taken in approximately 635,000 Syrian refugees which is about 10 per cent of its own population.
Our prioritization of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis. The West has all but abandoned its belief in humanity and support for the precious ideals contained in declarations on universal human rights. It has sacrificed these ideals for short-sighted cowardice and greed.
Can physical borders stop refugees? Instead of building walls, we should look at what is causing people to become refugees and work to solve those conditions to stem the flow at its source. To do so will require the most powerful nations in the world to adjust how they are actively shaping the world, how they are using political and economic ideology enforced by overwhelming military power to disrupt entire societies.
How will the poor, displaced or occupied exist when their societies are destroyed? Should they simply disappear? Can we recognize that their continued existence is an essential part of our shared humanity? If we fail to recognize this, how can we speak of civilized development? Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth.