-Priyanca Mathur Velath & Aparajita Das
As this issue of RWO goes online the shocking reality confronting us is that the number of displaced people is the highest ever today in the world. This number is only increasing with every passing day. While the main reason for this is being attributed to the exodus from Syria, the recent addition to this has been the flight of more than 300,000 people from Mosul, Iraq, after swathes of it are being captured by Sunni extremists. To make things worse Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region is not receiving Iraqis who are fleeing the attacks by Sunni militants. While refugees from the war-torn nation Afghanistan continues to form the largest single group of refugees, new refugees are also emerging from recent conflicts in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Ukraine.
In fact Syria’s tragic story reminds us of the irony of fate, of how in the past five years civil war has converted the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country into the world’s second largest refugee-producing country. A grim reminder of how realities change when people fearing their life, are forced to flee their homelands, leaving behind all they had. Figures point out that by the end of 2013 there were 6.5 million Syrians displaced within their own country, making them the single largest group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Meanwhile Syrians continue to pour out across their borders into the soils of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Another recent flash point has emerged within Pakistan with the exodus of refugees, now living in miserable conditions after fleeing fighting in North Waziristan. Reports claim that nearly 466,000 people have poured out of the tribal agency borderingAfghanistan following the start of a long-awaited effort to stamp out the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups who have made the region their home. In Kenya’s Turkana county, people fleeing from the internecine conflict in South Sudanare on the verge of starvation in the crowded shelters. The county is reeling under famine like situation. And what is worse is that around 70 percent of refugees are children under the age of five years.
There are more than 16 million refugees right now hosted by some country or the other and 33.3 million IDPs. These numbers are likely to go up as reasons for forced displacement varies – in some cases the state has failed to provide safety, some due to persecution, civil war and in Iraq it is the violence perpetrated by a non-state actor. At the same time we must not forget to acknowledge and applaud agencies/ institutions which are attempting to rehabilitate refugees/ returnees/ IDPs such as in Sri Lanka.
The bigger crisis, yet again, is of the paucity of humanitarian aid to handle such figures of displaced persons. Reportedly only thirty per cent of the record $16.9 billion asked for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had rolled in from donor countries.Antonio Guterres, head of UNHCR, has grimly warned that “There is no humanitarian response able to solve the problems of so many people….It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the capacity and resources to deal with so many people in such tragic circumstances.” Besides, as Alexander Betts notes, “The nature of displacement is very different…the cases of displacement are very different, and the needs of the displaced population are very different.” (i)
In India, the 16th General Election in May 2014, resulted in a decade-old Congress-led government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) being ousted by a new government, now in place, of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It faces the challenge of implementing the recently passed Land Acquisition Bill, 2013 which will decide the fate of all those displaced by developmental projects. Not being a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and yet home to numerous refugee groups, India continues to face the challenge of finding comprehensive legal solutions for not just refugee but also IDP populations within it. (ii)
The UN Refugee Agency is continuing with their campaign “1 family torn apart by war is too many”. The agency with the support of the international community including media, NGOs and INGOs need to intervene even before a war breaks out. With complex conflicts among different sects, borders, claims over territories, persecution of minorities, often lot of time is wasted who will intervene and when and to what extent. There have been cases of intervention in the past but very few countries are ready to share the burden of refugees who are fleeing to escape horrors of war or for life. The first attempt should be to ensure the fleeing people’s physical safety and then to integrate into the host society or repatriate them back. In all this lot of mental trauma is involved which often remains unhealed for the entire lifetime.
On this note, to commemorate World Refugee Day (June 20) this issue of Refugee Watch Online, brings together a host of perspectives of those forcibly displaced from different countries and regions. We begin with a guest post from Pakistan, by Imran Khan Laghari, a practicing refugee lawyer in Pakistan and also Executive Director of Human Rights Alliance. Laghari highlights the challenges of continuously sharing the burden of hosting huge numbers of Afghan refugees for over three decades now that a non-signatory country like Pakistan faces.
The remaining four articles have all been written by Masters Students of the Political Science Department, St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. Ashwathy Vijayan, on return from her summer internship at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in Colombo, reflects on the current status of the resettlement process in the island nation of Sri Lanka that is still recovering from the aftermath of a twenty-six year old civil war wherein the government led a military campaign against militancy.Kriti Chopra, during the course of her summer internship in New Delhi at the Indian Council for World Affairs in New Delhi explored the tragedy of the persecuted and unwanted Rohingya refugees from Burma, who are also seeking refuge in large numbers in India. The perils of development-induced displacement are deliberated on by Sonam Wangchuk Nadikpa, who during the course of field work for his Master’s Thesis, had spent some time on two dam sites in Sikkim. Finally we have a round up of the crisis inSouth Sudan presented by Kaikho Osha. We end this issue with some recent updates in the News section.
i)See Nick Cumming Brice http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/world/refugees-at-levels-not-seen-since-second-world-war.html?_r=1
ii)India grants asylum and provides direct assistance to some 200,000 refugees from neighbouring countries. As the country lacks a national legal framework for asylum, UNHCR conducts registration and refugee status determination (RSD), mostly for arrivals from Afghanistan and Myanmar. More than 24,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of diverse origins are protected and assisted by the Office in India. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4876d6.html