Refugees surge amid po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis


The num­ber of refugees flee­ing their na­tive lands as well as peo­ple be­ing in­ter­nally dis­placed in their home coun­tries has surged be­yond even the most dire pre­dic­tions. Just six months ago, a U.N. re­port launched an ur­gent ap­peal for US$16.4 bil­lion to as­sist 58 mil­lion peo­ple; a record num­ber of refugees, in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons and vic­tims of famine. Now six months later, stun­ning new de­mands have arisen to now need­ing nearly US$19 bil­lion to meet the hu­man­i­tar­ian needs of 79 mil­lion peo­ple in 37 coun­tries from Chad to Su­dan and Syria. Of these, nearly 17 mil­lion are refugees. These num­bers ri­val the flood of refugees at the end of WWII.

The U.N.’s new hu­man­i­tar­ian chief Stephen O’Brien con­cedes that de­spite the dire need, only about a quar­ter of the aid re­quire­ments have been met by donor gov­ern­ments and re­lief agen­cies. In­deed the U.N.’s cur­rent hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­peal is five times larger that in 2004, a fig­ure re­flect­ing a world in calamity and chaos.

It ap­pears that the hu­man tsunami from civil wars, failed states, and famine threat­ens to over­whelm re­lief agen­cies. More trou­bling long-term be­comes the deeper prob­lem of cri­sis over­load, where the world sim­ply shrugs the latest tragedy away.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian Crises

Syria’s high- pro­file civil war presents a clear and present dan­ger not only geopo­lit­i­cally but on the hu­man­i­tar­ian front where 12 mil­lion peo­ple need hu­man­i­tar­ian help. Ac­cord­ing to the U. N.’ s Stephen O’Brian, “7.6 mil­lion have been forced from their homes and 4 mil­lion peo­ple have left their coun­try.”

Mil­lions have set­tled or are in the refugee limbo of neigh­bor­ing Le­banon, Jor­dan and Tur­key.

These num­bers are stag­ger­ing and par­tic­u­larly desta­bi­liz­ing for small coun­tries such as Le­banon.

The quiet hor­rors of Su­dan and South Su­dan where in­tra-Is­lamic vi­o­lence in Dar­fur con­tin­ues, is largely for­got­ten by a once fix­ated world. Like­wise, the tragedy and trauma of South Su­dan, the Chris­tian break­away state, con­tin­ues; some 4.6 mil­lion peo­ple face food in­se­cu­rity.

In other cases, mi­grants from Chad, Nige­ria and Eritrea are try­ing to slip il­le­gally into south­ern Europe via Italy. These un­for­tu­nates are at the mercy of transna­tional crim­i­nal gangs and car­tels who use and abuse these peo­ple most of which “make it” to Europe but then are shuf­fled into a nether­world of camps and hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Thou­sands oth­ers drown in the rough Mediter­ranean Sea usu­ally be­cause their boats are not sea­wor­thy. Euro­pean gov­ern- ments seem con­founded to craft an eq­ui­table so­lu­tion for the mi­grants flee­ing mis­rule in the home­lands.

Ger­many gets the l argest num­ber of asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions, 248,000 last year, while Hungary fol­lowed with 74,000, Italy with 64,000 and France with 58,000.

Clearly, the widen­ing swath of rad­i­cal Is­lam, es­pe­cially the ex­pan­sion of the Is­lamic State ( IS) as well as al- Qaida af­fil­i­ates, have been the sin­gu­lar deadly cat­a­lyst for the trou­bles in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ye­men. Then there’s the en­trenched Is­lamic Tal­iban threat to Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

Doc­tors with­out Borders, (MSF) the French med­i­cal agency adds, “Iraq is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in re­cent decades.” MSF ad­vises, “In­tense fight­ing has forced 3 mil­lion peo­ple to flee the war torn ar­eas of cen­tral and north­ern Iraq and many are now stranded in ar­eas with­out the most ba­sic hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.” Yet in 2014, MSF car­ried out 219,000 out­pa­tient con­sul­ta­tions for the dis­placed per­sons.

Bru­tal eth­nic strife con­tin­ues to plague the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo ( DRC) , So­ma­lia, Su­dan and South Su­dan. Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as in the re­cent earth­quake in Nepal, added 2.8 mil­lion to the list.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. Global Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­sponse Re­port, there are 5 mil­lion peo­ple need­ing as­sis­tance in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo (DRC), 10 mil­lion in Su­dan and South Su­dan, 8 mil­lion in Ye­men, and 331,000 in Libya. The dire list con­tin­ues.

When one thinks of the up­root- ed, say the Hun­gar­i­ans es­cap­ing the Soviet crack­down in 1956 or the Cubans flee­ing Cas­tro in the early 1960’s or even the Bos­ni­ans and Croa­t­ians of the early 1990’s we as­sume most asy­lum seek­ers soon in­te­grate and as­sim­i­late into their host coun­tries such as the U.S. or Canada.

This is less the case to­day. Sadly the av­er­age time a per­son stays dis­placed is 17 years, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. This re­flects the tragic case of the Afghans in Pak­istan, a South Asian coun­try which still hosts the world’s largest num­ber of refugees.

An­to­nio Guter­res, the U. N.’ s High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees de­scribed the mat­ter suc­cinctly; “the world is a mess.”

Hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies are do­ing an ad­mirable job of treat­ing the symp­toms of global dis­or­der, but politi­cians have failed in treat­ing the prob­lems which stem from an in­creas­ingly un­sta­ble world or­der which leads to dis­as­ter and the trag­i­cally grow­ing nether­world of refugees and dis­placed per­sons. John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of Di­vided Dy­namism The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China (2014).

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