This article is written by Yash Sharma, a law student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Indraprastha University, New Delhi. This article tries to cover who is a refugee and what problems do refugees face and help that could be taken from various organisations.
70.8 million people displaced due to persecution, conflict, exploitation or violence in 2018 as recorded by UNHCR, needs to know if they have a future ahead. Right now, for all they know, reaching a safe pace is not the end of their struggles and now they have to fight for a normal livelihood. Ironically, they have to overcome barriers and discrimination that they will face from society, which welcomed them. This article is an attempt to discuss who is a refugee, what are the problems that they face after getting displaced from the homeland, and what all challenges they have to overcome before being able to finally achieve peace and stability. This article also tries to enumerate the role of various organizations already working for the benefit of the refugees.
As per the definition of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, a refugee is anyone who has no option but to flee from his country of origin because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a reasonable apprehension of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group of the society. They cannot return home due to those fears. In most cases, the reason for a refugee crisis originates either from war or ethnic, religious and tribal violence. When we talk about refugees in the contemporary world there are terms and status given to such people who leave their hometown for various other purposes and against their will. These include Internally Displaced Person, Stateless Person and Asylum Seekers.
Internally Displaced Person
An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who has been forced to leave his home place but has never crossed an international border. They try to find any shelter seeking safety anywhere they can find it. They seek any temporary shelter like towns, schools, settlements, internal camps, even forests and fields. The status and origin of an IDP are a bit different from a refugee because unlike refugees they can not have international aid as they are supposed to be protected under their own State Government. IDPs include people displaced not just because of violence or any kind of extremism but also internal strife and natural disasters.
There is a link between Internally Displaced Persons and refugees. The same has been published by The Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2017. The IDMC highlights the link between cross-border and internal displacement. As per the report, six among the top 10 origin countries of refugees are also among the top 10 countries with the most number of ISPs.
The definition of a stateless person and refugee is different. A stateless person is someone who is not given protection by any State Authority, that is, a person not considered as a citizen by the State under the operation of its law. Citizenship, as mentioned above, is a legal bond between a state government and an individual, for which he gives up his liberty to an extent and in return enjoys certain political, economic, social and other rights of the individual and protection from the State. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has a right to a nationality, and no one should be deprived of his nationality arbitrarily. Convention relating to the status of Stateless persons of 1954 deals with the status of these people and also provides a mandate for their protection.
In cross-border displacement when a person flees to another country for sustenance they often apply for asylum in Host Countries. This application of Asylum status includes the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive protection from that State along with material assistance. National asylum systems are placed in each country to evaluate these asylum applications and determine who qualifies for international protection. But in some cases of mass movements of refugees due to any reason but mostly violence, it is not always possible to critically evaluate every application of a cross-border displaced person. This classified group is called “prima facie” refugees.
Right now there are more than 70 million people around the world fleeing from their homes due to fear of prosecution or exploitation. The gravity of the crisis is that one-third of the displaced persons have been forced to flee from their homes due to persecution and violence. Also one-third of those displaced are mainly from 5 countries, that are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia.
Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Syrian refugee crisis is the biggest in the world right now. Ever Since the crisis started in 2011, it has been an origin country for a large number of displaced persons. In the first two years, there was already a displacement of almost 1 million people, but the second wave of 1 million people to get displaced only took six months. Currently, after nine years more than half of the total population of Syria has already fled their homes seeking security and shelter to a safer place because of all the violence and exploitation. As per the data of 2019, there have already been more than 11 million people on the run, including some 6.7 million people who have already crossed the border to escape the civil war.
The UN estimated the expense to help 13.5 million people, with 6 million children among them as $3.2bn for humanitarian assistance, based on the data of 2016. As per the estimate, 70% of the population does not have proper drinking water, every third person is unable to get proper food, more than 2 million children are deprived of education, and 80% lives under poverty. The parties under conflict have enraged the problems for displaced people by not letting aid reach to the people. Around 4.5 million people are currently living in remote areas that are hard to reach. Around 400,000 people are confirmed to be living in besieged locations without any access to any sort of life-saving aid.
Afghanistan Refugee Crisis
The crisis started around 40 years ago because of the oppressive and violent communist government of Taraki and Amin. More than 400,000 people fled from their houses. Afghani refugee crisis involves one of the world’s largest fleeing refugee populations. Ever since the crisis started four decades ago, most of the families never saw their homes again. Those who were able to return to their home only got displaced again by a fresh new wave of human rights violation, just to flee to some other place in the country or to become a refugee again. The refugee camps where now generations of afghan families have lived, in itself, forms a part of society are still discriminated against and threatened of deportation.
In 2018, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded the highest civilian death in conflict. The highest number of deaths of children in the conflict was recorded in the same year as well. According to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the data recorded 11,000 casualties, including 3,804 deaths and 7,189 injuries and 360,000 internally displaced persons due to the conflict.
Even in this humanitarian crisis, the international community does lack concern for the people facing exploitation. They continue to show a discriminative approach towards the refugees who have already been returned from Europe, Iran, and Pakistan, or have already been through inhuman detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru Island in Australian coastal area.
South Sudan Refugee Crisis
After the 8 years-long crisis that started in 2013, what now could have been independence with a peace enjoying country, the situation is much different, and there is a massive humanitarian crisis going on instead. Political conflict, complemented by economic instability, drought, and shortage of food has caused massive problems. Among the population of 7 million, more than two-thirds of their population are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and over 6.9 million people are facing hunger.
Several factors, including armed conflict, flooding, and drought continue to deteriorate the livelihood quality. There is an urgent and massive need for fresh drinkable water, health support, sanitation facilities, food, shelter, and protection across the whole country, adding on to that the need is urgent, as they need this to survive.
Myanmar Refugee crisis
The crisis started in 2017 when violence broke out in the northern Rakhine State of Myanmar. Rohingyan Muslims who faced discrimination and exploitation by the state from ages revolted against Myanmar by attacking a security institution. From here the Myanmar State started active ethnic cleansing and deportation of Rohingyans from Myanmar. After the violence broke out more than 700,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar in the southeast. Meanwhile, Bangladesh was already facing the crisis of refugees due to which 212,000 refugees fled from Myanmar in the early stages of the crisis.
Bangladesh, the host country, was unable to handle the strain caused to it due to the influx of refugees. The huge influx of refugees that too in a short time worsened the situation. In mid-2019, there were already 932,000 refugees in Bangladesh, and 1.3 million people, including both refugees and host nation’s communities in the host area, were dependent upon humanitarian aid, which has increased on a tremendous scale. The overpopulation of camps and lack of basic facilities makes it even harder for them to survive cyclones and monsoon season, harsh in those regions.
To cope with the needs of humanitarian aid, a new Joint Response Plan was launched in February 2019 It requested the US for a funding of $920.5 million to aid a population of 1.2 million people. The partially filled fund was used for priority needs of food, cloth, and shelter in the plan of action in the timeline of January-December of 2019.
Somalian Refugee Crisis
The Somalian crisis has been going on for more than 30 years. Over time hundreds and thousands of refugees have been displaced due to violence or themselves fled due to natural calamities. Right now, there are more than 750,000 refugees and more than 2.6 million internally displaced persons due to political instability and dangerous civil war that started in the 1990s.
Refugees that dispersed to the neighbouring countries over time are vast. The data says that right now there are 256,186 refugees in Kenya, 250,500 refugees in Yemen and 192,820 refugees in Ethiopia. In the problematic conditions of their own due to internal displacement and refugee crisis of their own, Yemen and Ethiopia from a long time have been welcoming refugees.
The next generation also faces serious challenges as they have been in refugee camps for a long time. The newly born generation within the camps do not know about life outside of freedom. UNHCR has been working to make the situation better for those refugees in any way possible and to provide a brighter future to them.
Causes of a refugee crisis
Causes of a refugee crisis could be anything that would result in displacement or fleeing of a person or a group due to a fear of persecution, exploitation, violence and natural disaster. These causes, in general, include war and civil armed rebellion, human rights exploitation, climatic changes, economic hardship and sexual orientation.
War and Civil War
Most people forced to flee as a refugee are a direct or indirect result of war or civil war. The first record of such a crisis in modern history is when people fled as refugees during the second world war. Since 2011 the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis has been a source of refugees on a very large scale. In June 2015 the United Nations Refugee Agency stated that wars and persecution are the main reason for a refugee crisis.
Human Rights violations
The biggest fear that causes a refugee crisis is the fear of persecution and exploitation, which makes a person feel insecure about his health and body in that State. There are various reasons for the persecution of a particular community or person, and those include racial, social, religious, and political exploitation. Discrimination and inequalities in itself is a good reason for a family to move away from their homeland and seek a better livelihood in some other region.
Currently, with the rise of the concept of Islamophobia and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, religious persecution is the most common form of persecution. Religious refugees are dispersed everywhere in the world currently, including Dalai Lama to Rohingyan Muslims in Burma.
But this is not the end of Human Rights violation, in many countries, exploitation of the poor is done by the rich and powerful. People at an authoritative position exploit lower to them for power, greed, and corruption. Corruption rooted in the institution, itself leads to no regulations for the protection of rights of the working class. Then the corruption further leads to unemployment and severe economic disparity. Recognition of persecution in this form still needs to be recognised for a reform. Refugees flee their country to find a better place for personal development.
UNHCR accepted that climate change is a major factor in the origin of the refugee crisis. The United Nations General Assembly in 2018, addressed that climatic changes, natural disasters, and environmental degradation are a contributory factor to the refugee movements.
As per the UN estimate, there are around 16.1 million people who have been displaced because of climate change and related factors. The needs of human civilization have been changed with the changes in climatic conditions. The international community is trying to fight these changes and safeguard people from getting affected by it. But, the climate can be a ground yet to seek asylum status.
Case studies from Bolivia, Senegal, and Tanzania, depicts that these three countries are highly vulnerable to incur damages due to climatic change. But still, people being affected rarely cross-international borders and rather move short distances and adapt to the changing conditions.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recognized that economic migrants are different from refugees, and therefore suggested that migrants who flee seeking basic survival shall be called “forced humanitarian refugees.” These refugees or economic migrants can not seek support from government and non-governmental organizations as they do not fall under the mandate of refugees.
In an economic hardship, poverty and inflation is the main reason for the refugee crisis. Venezuela is an example of the same where there have already been more than 4 million who have left the country to seek economic and humanitarian aid. This Latin country which was once one of the fastest-growing economies is now home to 32 million citizens unable to afford food. The rate of migration of refugees seeking aid is almost 8000 per cent since 2014. Refugee crisis-driven is to seek financial stability, access to food, healthcare, and better living standards.
Gender and Sexual orientation
Violence due to gender or sexual orientation is now a recognised and rapidly increasing reason for a refugee movement. The UNHCR recognised and accepted it as a ground in 2012, to seek asylum in other countries. There are still 77 countries in the world that penalises same-sex relationship and there are seven countries that make it punishable with death sentence.
People face continuous discrimination and are often the target of violence, death threats, discrimination and fearsome livelihood. The exploited group often seeks asylum in countries that welcome LGBT+ sexual-oriented individuals.
Issues faced by refugees
When a refugee reaches the destination country, they find ways to enjoy a normal life after escaping from various fear od death, torture, violence, discrimination and persecution. But the fight for the likelihood doesn’t end there and after reaching a safer place they have to face many issues such as language limitations, children raising, finding work, freedom to move, healthcare facilities, cultural barrier and housing.
When there is a cross-border migration, it immediately becomes a challenge to adapt to the new language and be able to communicate. For example, a refugee from the middle-east in the USA can not be expected to know the native language of the USA. and just being able to learn first, is a problematic situation while managing daily hassles.
Communication with the natives, getting a job, applying for documents or buying food or necessities will require the knowledge of native language. Not only this is difficult but even if one can learn the language it will take a long time and doing so itself is difficult. Again management of basic needs and survival comes in question while learning.
Raising children in a refugee camp
Raising a child in a refugee camp or while trying to adjust to the new circumstances is a great challenge. First of all, they are raising the child in a society completely different from their own, so they have to raise the child according to the norms of the host country.
As far as the education is concerned for the development of a child, if the child is being educated in a school of a host nation with completely different mechanisms, it would be difficult for parents to understand and help their children. Most importantly in the changing dynamics of the surroundings of refugees, the child and parents face discrimination and bullying causing a problem to the mental health of the children and family.
Inability to get a job
Once you reach a destination country while seeking refuge after a time the aid stops and the refugee has to start doing some job. As a refugee, it is difficult in the case of both skilled or unskilled refugees.
Most often the employer wants the employee to have experience in the country you are seeking a job and your skills before does not matter, the refugee has to start from scratch. This is because the employer requires the employee to know the market and mechanism of his country which is different from the refugees home State.
For unskilled or semi-skilled labourers, it is hard for even native labourers and often exploitative but in the case of refugees, they face discrimination not only from the employers but from colleagues too. Also, they often get underpaid, harsh working conditions, prolonged working hours, and work outside the ambit of their job because they are desperate to work.
Language barrier plates an important role in this, as this not only limits the expression of their skills but also, makes them incompetent to get jobs which a normal citizen could easily get without any qualifications such as customer-oriented jobs.
Access to public transport
Access to public transport is directly related to the availability of job opportunities, as if one refugee lacks job opportunity in one area, then he can travel in search of more opportunities. But the ability to be able to move is often hindered because, first of all, still in the world most of these refugees are kept in detention and those in refugee camps are kept under surveillance and exile unable to leave the site.
For refugees, it is difficult to get a driver’s license as they require the knowledge of the native language and it is even more difficult to commute without being able to communicate in native language. Most refugee and migrant families, because of lack of funds, share one car among each other. Mostly it is women and children who have to commute using public transport which is a hard task, now doing this without knowing the native language makes it even more difficult and risky.
In countries, who are accepting refugees at a large scale are often those with developed economies and have high per capita income. Meanwhile, newly arriving refugees have no source of income. Also, they need houses which are very costly and could not be afforded by the refugees. This allows landlords to exploit the refugees.
Many charges rent more than allowed and illegally increase the rent for the house by always using the threat of evacuation. Landlords do this because they make use of the vulnerability of the refugees, as in most cases, they either do not know their rights, or they do not have means to fight it legally. Due to the unavailability of a source of income or any other resources, more than one family is often forced to live together in a single space with little or no personal space.
Healthcare and other basic facilities
In the case of refugees fleeing from violence or exploitation, they have often seen great losses and suffer from either depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially refugee children. But because of the language barrier, discrimination by native people, and social taboo, they are less likely to go to healthcare institutions seeking professional help.
They can not make use of legal services and legal aid provided by the state for free, due to language issues. In case of any legal prosecution, the inability to share your opinion due to language issues often leaves the side of refugees unheard and sometimes lands in dangerous situations. Cases, when a refugee or a migrant can find their way to these institutions, their experience of it, is often negative. The reason is that there are no proper mechanisms in any country for effective communication.
When a refugee settles in some other and gets blended in an unknown society, it is only reasonable to presume that now he is in a culture which is almost completely different from his own. And this works in both ways, even if something is done by the people of the host country for refugees with good intention, could be perceived insensitive and rude by the refugees and migrants. Children of refugees and migrants face discrimination and bullying in school for their different appearance and traditions, ranging from clothes and food to mannerism.
Role of international organizations for their betterment
Inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) are the organizations that work on an international level and their mandate is decided by a group of countries together. An example of such an organization is the United Nations. Many organizations with different roles are trying to help the refugees in need by providing them with humanitarian aid. Other than that various other organizations working at regional, local, and international levels all have a role to play in easing the problems of refugees and migrants. There are Non-Governmental Organizations which also work with cooperation from national governments.
Some Intra-national organizations are-
- The United Nations High Commission For Refugees (The UN’s Refugee Agency) works to ensure that everyone gets to safety who is fleeing from persecution, exploitation, discrimination, human rights violation, natural disaster, violence, or war and help them seek asylum.
- The United Nations- Protecting Human Rights, under the United Agencies there are several agencies dedicated to protecting human rights having their mandate covering refugees and migrants issues. Those agencies include the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Treaty Bodies, etc.
- International Organization for Migration, it was established in 1951, IOM is one of the main international organizations working in the field of migration. It also works closely with governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental agencies.
- The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), was established in 2011 to monitor and provide practical cooperation among European Union members to implement the Common European Asylum System(CEAS).
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)- Migration, it is made up of the largest 33 world economies and its work is to publish with proper policies for migration issues.
Other than those intra-national governments, some non-governmental organisations working for the betterment and aid of refugees and human rights protection are-
- Human Rights Watch, they record and report abuse happening all over the world. They research about 100 countries in the world, analyzing facts and situations to provide the best solutions. They deal with governments, the UN, rebel groups and agencies so that exploitative laws or policies could be changed so that justice is served.
- Amnesty International, they fight exploitation and injustice in any form in the world and have also worked for the aid of refugees in different places.
Reforms and suggestions
All the governments of host countries have a different approach towards the crisis of immigration of refugees and internally displaced persons. But when a country welcomes refugees, they need to remember that the people coming to their country have faced exploitation from their government and probably have insecurities regarding the treatment they will get in host nations. The refugees have already faced a lot of persecution, and most of them must have lost a loved one in the process of displacement or war and exploitation whatever may be the reason for displacement. So, it becomes critical to facilitate those refugees with proper necessities.
Going through a refugee crisis as discussed above often impacts the mental health of the refugees and results in PTSD and depression for which they often lack due to the inability to access those facilities. One of the reasons is the lack of money, the medical facilities in some countries are more than those refugees can pay for. Also, the language barrier makes it harder for their problems to be overcome.
Another problem of refugees is the security issues that they face in refugee camps before settling in the country. Refugees often face trafficking and exploitation in the refugee camps itself, so the host country by legal procedures shall set up a committee to register such refugee camps and monitor and report human rights status to an intra-national government, who has the power to take action against those violations.
The refugee crisis is the reality of the contemporary world as a large number of people are running either from persecution and violence or natural disasters. The need of the hour is to make the international community jointly responsible for safeguarding humanity from such dangers. There are already many mechanisms at place but the question of implementation of effective policies is to be answered. There are problems refugees face in the host country when they try to secure a normal livelihood, and those problems could only be countered by better understanding and support from the host country. Many organizations at different levels working for the aid of refugees should also be made part of the bigger structures already working on a large scale. Those nations incurring the major burden must be given aid by those who are not as a part of their moral obligations towards mankind.
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