Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

World Refugee Day is a timely reminder of an urgent task

While intolerance and prejudice rise, the suffering of displaced people continues across the globe

An Afghan refugee boy carries a sheep near his makeshift house in Lahore. AFP
An Afghan refugee boy carries a sheep near his makeshift house in Lahore. AFP

Just four years ago, a series of images was released to the press, showing the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach. Like many before and since, his family had attempted to escape the horrors of the Syrian war by sea, only for their journey to end in tragedy. These stark photographs shocked the world and led to a dramatic rise in public concern for the millions of refugees created by the conflict. Charities reported huge surges in donations and, for a while, it looked like the international community might come together to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis. But that was then. With populist political parties and right-wing groups seizing control of political discourse across the globe, attitudes have since taken a much darker turn.

Meanwhile, the suffering continues. Just this Wednesday, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees revealed that, at the end of 2018, the world contained more than 70 million forcibly displaced people. This figure is higher than at any time since the Second World War. The Middle East has been hit particularly hard, with Syrians alone accounting for 6.7 million people. Slightly further afield, 2.7 million have left Afghanistan in the past year. Nearly four out of every five refugees end up in countries next-door to the ones they are fleeing. Lebanon, for example, has the highest proportion per capita at one in six people. Turkey, meanwhile, hosts the world’s largest refugee population, at 3.7 million.

Unfortunately, at both grassroots and establishment level, compassion appears to be in short supply. Just this week, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency – the main body responsible for Palestinian refugees – revealed a catastrophic budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to deny it $300 million of funding. Closer to home, he has threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico if it does not help prevent people fleeing violence in South America from attempting to cross the US border. In Europe, the ill-conceived Dublin Regulation, which states that those seeking asylum in the EU are the responsibility of the first member state they land in, has had a drastic impact on Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy – the latter of which has responded by voting in a populist government that is enacting harsh anti-immigration laws. Tomorrow is World Refugee Day, a time to remember that, from governments to individuals, we all have a part to play in easing the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people. Wealthy nations and institutions have an obligation to help wherever they can. On a personal level, we can choose to donate to relevant charities and ensure that we take a stand against prejudice whenever we see it. After all, decency and humanity cost nothing.

Updated: June 20, 2019 02:59 AM

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