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World’s migrants and refugees: a growing, neglected crisis

Refugees being failed by mix of global inaction on human rights and political opportunism, says Amnesty head

  • By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor
  • Published: 04:30 May 23, 2013
  • Gulf News

Dubai: The plight of about 214 million migrants and refugees around the world is becoming gloomier in the absence of global action, a human rights watchdog warned on Tuesday.

Amnesty International (AI) said in its annual report, which was released on Tuesday in London, that the world is increasingly becoming a “dangerous place” for refugees and migrants.

“Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world and yet they are being failed by a mix of global inaction on human rights and political opportunism,” Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International said.

In a statement to Gulf News, he said UN figures show that out of 214 million migrants and refugees, there are today nearly 43 million people worldwide who have been “forcibly displaced” as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid 1990s. More than 15 million of them fled their home countries, while 27 million were displaced within their homelands.

Last year, a series of human rights emergencies in many countries including North Korea, Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo forced massive numbers of people to flee their homes seeking safety either within their countries or across borders.

Also, the Syrian crisis shows how an emergency that creates refugees can have regional and global implications. The UN estimates that the number of Syrian refugees could reach 3.5 million by the end of 2013. The influx has hit neighbouring countries hard, mainly Jordan and Lebanon. Helping Syria’s neighbours to deal with the human implications of the two-and-half-year conflict is “crucial for preserving the stability of the entire region”, said Shetty.

“The excuse that human rights are “internal affairs” has been used to block international action to address rights emergencies such as Syria,” an AI statement said.

“Respect for state sovereignty cannot be used as an excuse for inaction. The UN Security council must consistently stand up to abuses that destroy lives and force people to flee their homes. That means rejecting worn-out and morally bereft doctrines that mass murder, torture and starvation are no one else’s business,” Shetty said.

Apart from conflicts, there are also other millions of people who were displaced as a result of natural disasters, but no up-to-date figures are available about them, he added.

Meanwhile, the rights of migrants and refugees are being abused by “many governments in the name of immigration control — going well beyond legitimate border control measures,” AI said.

“Around the world, migrants and asylum-seekers are regularly locked up in detention centres and in worse case scenarios are held in metal crates or even shipping containers,” AI said in its report.

The conditions of millions of migrants amount to forced labour, and in some cases slavery-like, because governments treat them like criminals and because corporations cared more about profits than workers’ rights.

Shetty said the increasing number of migrants and refugees should make the international community recognise the need to “find a realistic way of responding” to the issue. He noted that many “uprooted people are facing rising levels of intolerance, xenophobia and discrimination,” in the places they flee to.

Shetty noted that the need to find a solution increases with the fact that modern conflicts become increasingly protracted — continuing for years or even decades — the time in exile for many refugees extends too, with repatriation often impossible. More than half of the refugees for whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible have been in exile for more than five years. Millions of refugees, including Palestinian and Somali refugees have lived as refugees for decades.

Comments (1)

  1. Added 12:55 May 23, 2013

    This is a crucial issue and UNHCR as the UN agency has tried its best also to address this issue, but the problem is that sometimes the problem is bigger than the possibility of help. The conflict has risen to the almost helpless level that even those who help need extra hand. Reintegration process is not a simple process, yet very much doable. But for that, a proper infrastructure which is mainly health centers, road, electricity, and potable water access completed with the existence of shelters are very much required in order to have a successful reintegration process. Every single human being has his own right, but sometimes the number of people is too much that dealing with individual right and individual concern become an obsolete practice.

    Melyawaty, Kabul, Afghanistan

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