Sunday, June 21, 2015

World Refugee Day

A UN map of the dispersal of refugees in 2015
Yesterday was World Refugee Day, a moment set aside by the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to spotlight the millions of people worldwide who have fled their countries in fear of their lives, and, also, the growing numbers of IDPs, internally displaced persons who have left their homes to avoid persecution and war.

On refugee day last year, the UN estimated there were 50 million refugees around the world.   Since then, armed conflicts have spread and grown worse.  The number of refugees has increased by millions. 

A brief but incomplete rundown:


Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan
Now four years into a civil war, Syria has the dubious distinction of having created the world's largest population of refugees, about 11 million.  
        The Zaatari Refugee Camp, pictured above, opened in Jordan three years ago and at its height held about 150,000 Syrians.  Later Jordan built another tent city of similar size, reducing by half the Zaatari population.  Since then, more people have fled Syria for Jordan; Zaatari now has about 83,000 residents.
          There are many other Syrian refugee camps across the Middle East.


A civil war that started after the 2011 ouster and death of Muammar al-Qaddafi rages on.  Between 1 million and 2 million Libyans have fled the country, and at least 400,000 have been displaced (are now IDPs) by the fighting.  ISIS has become active in the country, terrorizing Libyans and performing at least 49 public executions of Christians.


This southeast Asian country is 90 percent Buddhist with a minority Muslim population estimated at between 1 million and 1.5 million.  These people, the Rohingya, trace their residence in Burma to the eight century BCE.   Still, the Buddhists insist the Rohingya are Bangladeshis.           
        The Rohingya are forbidden to attend public schools, work for the government or hold political office.  Burma restricts their movements, and has forced many, including children as young as seven, into hard labor for no pay.  
        An estimated 140,000 Rohingya are held in a huge IDP camp.  Not surprisingly, almost as many Rohingya have fled by sea to seek new homes in Muslim countries; hundreds are understood to have drowned, and an unknown number have been preyed upon and killed by human smugglers.


Fighting continues between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the Donetsk region.  According to a recent report from the UNHCR:

         Ukraine's Ministry of Social Policy puts the number of registered IDPs countrywide 

         at 980,000 – a figure that is expected to rise as more newly uprooted people are 
         being registered. In addition, some 600,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum or 
         other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries, particularly the Russian
         Federation, but also Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Romania, since 
         February 2014.


More than 625,000 immigrants/refugees sought asylum status in Europe last year, almost 200,000 more than in 2013.  It is estimated that as many as 500,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East are massed in Libya, waiting to board boats for the treacherous passage to Europe.  Almost 800 died in a single shipwreck in April this year.  More such deaths are expected this summer. 


Europe has a recent history of refugee populations.  At the end of World War II, estimates of the numbers of displaced Europeans ranged from 40 million to 60 million.  (Nobody seems to have attempted similar counts in Asia and Africa.)

Much of Europe's infrastructure was destroyed by the war, but it had defined countries, educations systems, and remnants of highways, bridges and commercial structures that could be fixed.  It also had the American Marshall Plan, which sent about $120 billion, in current dollars, to rebuild the continent's economies.

Even with all that, the last refugee camp in Europe was closed only in 1960, fifteen long years after the end of the war.  

None of the conflicts the UN is addressing today seems near to resolution.  How long will today's refugees be stuck in camps, their lives on hold?  How many will be offered asylum and citizenship in more ordered countries that themselves have high unemployment and low economic growth rates?  

No comments:

Post a Comment