x

Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

UAE's refuge for refugees is a rare humanitarian gesture in today's world

On World Refugee Day, it is time to stop failing a record 68.5 million vulnerable people

South Sudanese refugees queue for food in northern Uganda. where 1 million are sheltering. Ben Curtis / AP
South Sudanese refugees queue for food in northern Uganda. where 1 million are sheltering. Ben Curtis / AP

They fled war and persecution, leaving everything behind to protect the lives and futures of their families. Their resilience should be a source of inspiration to us all. And yet no single group has been so consistently failed by the world as refugees, whose plight will be remembered tomorrow on World Refugee Day.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a record 68.5 million people are currently displaced after fleeing war, violence and persecution.

That is why the resolution adopted on Monday by the UAE Cabinet to allow those fleeing wars and natural disasters to remain in this country for a year offers a message that is as powerful as it is rare. Part of the UAE's drive to promote global peace and security, it will lend support to those rendered homeless by forces far larger than themselves, whatever their country of origin.

The UAE is already home to about 200 nationalities but against a backdrop of anti-refugee sentiment sweeping the globe, the clear commitment to refugees is praiseworthy.

From South Sudan to Myanmar and Syria, 16.2m people were newly displaced last year, equivalent to more than 44,000 per day. Inaction by the powerful in the face of their plight has seen refugee numbers rise consecutively for five years. It is a tragic indictment of our world; more prosperous than ever and yet totally incapable of – or unwilling to – care for the needy.

On today of all days, the UAE’s example should inspire other nations to act with compassion and humanity.

Because the plight of refugees does not end at the point of departure. They are forced to settle in unfamiliar lands, where they are often met with suspicion or even outright hostility.

The recent Aquarius affair – when 629 migrants were turned away by both Italy and Malta before being welcomed by Spain – is evidence of that. While a similar mindset has emerged in Hungary, Austria and even the UK, the problem is not a European one. US President Donald Trump on Monday stated that America “will not be a refugee holding facility”.

In the case of Syrians, newly introduced law 10 is on track to dispossess thousands of displaced Syrians, who will now be required to prove ownership before they can return.

Those who abuse refugees in word or deed often overlook an essential truth: that most want only to return safely home. The UAE cabinet’s resolution is rare in acknowledging that fact. It allows the vulnerable to begin their recovery in a peaceful and stable environment and to plan their ultimate return home.