Refugee crisis: addressing causes, not just symptoms

Latest figures from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, shows that at the end of 2018 a record total of 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. It is against this backdrop when the number of children, women and men have broken all records that the international community commemorated World Refugee Day on 20 June.

On this day, the UNHCR and civil society organizations around the world honor the courage and determination of those forced to flee their homes and restart lives in a different place. Campaigns and events are held to raise awareness among the public about the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world, who no longer have a place to call their own.

Speaking on the occasion of this year’s World Refugee, the Director of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuwait (UNHCR) Samer Hadadian said, “Over the years, Kuwait has been a generous donor of aid and support to refugees and people in need all over the world, and the country has been a role model of humanitarian activism.”

Kuwait hosted an international conference for Iraq reconstruction in 2018 which raised $30 billion of investment pledges. The country also chaired an international donors’ conference in support of Rohingya refugees in Geneva in 2017, which raised aid pledges amounting to $335 million.

In addition, Kuwait has hosted three international conferences between 2013 and 2015 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, co-chaired two others for the same purpose and created an international mechanism to follow up donors’ fulfillment of their aid pledges for Syrian refugees. These conferences together raised nearly $30 billion of aid pledges to provide basic humanitarian support for refugees and displaced Syrians.

Kuwait has also contributed over $400 million in the past five years to UNHCR to help provide emergency humanitarian aid and protection services to millions of conflict-affected men, women and children in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, the UN official pointed out. Kuwait is not only the largest donor per capita but was also among the top contributors to UNHCR.

The proclamation by the UN of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as a ‘Humanitarian Leader’ and the designation of Kuwait as a ‘Humanitarian center’ in 2014 was a well-deserved move due to Kuwait’s unprecedented initiatives and generous donations to people in distress everywhere, and for its leading role in regional and international philanthropy, said the UN diplomat.

Of the 70.8 million people displaced worldwide, the largest number, 41.3 million, were internally displaced people (IDP). Unlike refuges who seek safety across borders, internally displaced people are on the run in their own countries. In addition, of the total forcibly displaced, 3.5 million were asylum seekers and 25.9 million were refugees, 20.4 million of whom were under UNHCR mandate, and 5.5 million Palestinian were under the mandate of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA)

Figures show that over half the refugees (57%) come from just three countries, Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and South Sudan (2.3 million). For the fifth consecutive year, Turkey continued to host the largest number of refuges (3.7 million). Other countries providing shelter to large refugee populations include Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million) and West Germany (1.1 million). Lebanon, with over one million refugees, had the largest refugee population relative to its national population (1 in 6 of the population was a refugee); Jordan (1 in 14) and Turkey (1 in 22) ranked second and third, respectively.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has a crucial role to play in resolving the global crisis created by the forcible displacement of over 70 million people, mainly by conflicts such as wars and persecution, said the UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi while briefing the 15-member UNSC in April.

“If conflicts were prevented or resolved, most refugee flows would disappear,” said the UNCHR Chief. He described current approaches to peace-making as fragmented, addressing only symptoms rather than root causes.  The Council should help resolve security crises, support countries hosting refugees and remove obstacles, he added.

The best solution for refugees is being able to voluntarily return home in safety and dignity. “With every refugee situation, wherever it is, however long it has been going on for, there has to be an enduring emphasis on solutions and removing obstacles to people being able to return home,” said the High Commissioner.

The return of refugees to their home country in safety is what most international agencies, donor countries and most refugees would prefer to see realized. But finding solutions to the underlying causes that precipitated the exodus of refugees in the first place is not practical in the short term, and sometimes not even in the long-term. The alternate is to seek other options, including integrating refugees in neighboring countries or resettling them in a third country.

Neighboring countries that are already straining at the seams from hosting nearly 80 percent of the world’s refugees are unlikely to accept integrating refugees into their population citing what are arguably valid reasons. The only other option open to the UN and other parties involved in finding solution to the refugee problem is to resettle refugees in a third country.

While around 593,800 refugees were able to return home in 2018 and a further 62,600 were naturalized, only 92,400 refugees — less than 7 percent of the more than 1.5 million people seeking resettlement — were accepted by third countries. It is ironic that many nations which voice concern over plight of refugees and criticize others for not welcoming and naturalizing refugees are often the ones that host the least number of refugees. Figures show that in 2018 high income countries on average hosted 2.7 refugees per 1000 of population, while middle and low-income countries hosted 5.8 refugees per 1000 population, but it was the poorest nations that hosted over a third of all refugees worldwide.

Though Kuwait and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have been among the top donors to humanitarian aid to refugees, they have been less than enthusiastic when it comes to granting refugee status or even entry to individuals fleeing conflicts in the region. Other Arab countries, even those neighboring conflict zones, often consider refugees as unwanted guests and an economic burden. Denied even basic rights, refugees are deemed as not only a potential security threat but also a challenge to the integrity of the nation due to perceived political, demographic and cultural implications that arise from integrating them into the community.

According to UN and international experts, finding a lasting solution to the global refugee problem would require making the 2018 Global Compact for a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) a binding instrument on states with credible enforcement and implementation mechanisms. Issued against the background of the recent refugee crisis that threatened to overwhelm international responses, the Global Compact aims to mitigate the impact of sheltering refugees particularly for frontline countries through more equitable burden and responsibility sharing by the international community.

However, accepting and implementing an integrated and multifaceted plan under the Global Compact would require the buy-in and involvement of all sections of society. The response to solving the refugee issue should involve governments working in tandem with international and local organizations, and with the support of civic societies and individuals. Working together the world can ensure that refugees are returned home safely, or they are provided a new home to continue their lives with dignity and hope.

Times Report