Based on data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are an estimated 22.5 million refugees worldwide. A further 65.6 million people around the world are forcibly displaced in their home country. The plight of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is one that should evoke action and empathy from states and individuals alike. Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) is however concerned about the rise of anti-refugee rhetoric, discrimination and populist political parties across Europe.
Refugees come from many different countries and backgrounds. While about 55 percent are from South Sudan, Afghanistan or Syria, other countries represented include: Eritrea, Iraq, Iran and many others. Many seek to reach Europe, because it provides stability, safety and economic opportunity, however their journeys are often long and perilous. The Mediterranean Sea route, which is utilized by the vast majority of refugees hoping to reach Europe, is fraught with dangers. The smuggling networks which bring refugees to Europe have little regard for the well-being of those they smuggle. Compounding the challenge for refugees is the disorganized, sometimes inhumane systems and discriminatory behaviour that they are faced with upon arrival in Europe.
Addressing the refugee and migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea routes has been a stated priority for the European Union since the April 2015 shipwreck which tragically took 800 lives. Yet, two years later there remain many gaps that have yet to be filled. Deaths at sea have been significantly lowered, but the processing of refugees and support mechanisms for integration are still lacking. Furthermore, a hierarchy created amongst countries of origin only serves to divide and differentiate refugees where the need does not exist. Finally, rising populism across Europe continues to leave many refugees on the frontline of discrimination and racism.
GICJ believes that all refugees should be treated fairly and equally. Reports that Syrian refugees enjoy much more expedited application processes once they land in Greece or Italy, two main European arrival points, cause frustration and anger amongst refugees from other countries. All refugees have left their home country due to well-founded fears and as such should enjoy similar treatment from processing authorities. The European Union and national governments must process refugees in a manner that acknowledges the difficulties faced, rather than creates a hierarchy of struggles.
GICJ also firmly asserts that refugees are resilient peoples who seek not handouts or pity, but rather support and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Increasing European discourse that characterizes refugees as “dangers” or “job stealers” stokes the flames of discriminatory behaviour against refugees and renders them one dimensional. Considering the countries of origin for the vast majority of refugees have been destabilized by European and other Western nations, there is a moral (and legal) obligation to accept and integrate those who are fleeing from the aftermath.
Refugees may be doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and so on in their country of origin. Others may have led more humble lives. Regardless of their background, they bring with them their skills, dreams and aspirations.
It is also important to note the situation of people who are forcibly displaced in Central and Eastern Africa whom are dealing with and accommodating millions of refugees especially from South Sudan where over 1.5 million people have fled armed violence due to internal conflicts, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where approximately 1.3 million people have been internally displaced including nearly 73,000 children and the Central African Republic (CAR) where approximately 1 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries all due to armed conflict and human rights abuses that continue to spread to unaffected regions. Many often arrive in dire conditions lacking adequate access to clean water and nutritious food after having travelled long and unsafe distances.
According to recent data over 23, 500 refugees have fled the Greater Kasai Region to Angola who openly welcomes refugees based on their historical friendship. This demonstrates that positive and mutual cooperation between states and regions benefits people on the move and particular people who seek refuge. By the end of May 2017 Uganda was home to almost 1.3 million refugees mainly from South Sudan (approximately 947, 000) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (approx. 204,000)1. Despite several struggles, Ethiopia attempts to keep its borders open to refugees.
GICJ recognizes that of the more than 65 million people who have had to forcibly leave their homes, and in some instances families and relatives, 84% are hosted in developing countries. Additionally, the routes taken are usually unsafe and families including millions of children, on many occasions unaccompanied minors and children, travel without adequate resources and vulnerable to dangerous traffickers or smugglers who commit grave abuses or involved in highly illegal and horrific activities. Considering this reality GICJ calls on the developed nations of the world to shoulder part of the burden and responsibility as a demonstration of humanity and international solidarity.
On this World Refugee Day, GICJ stands firm in its belief, asserted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all peoples have a right to life, liberty and security of person. Refugees test Europe’s belief in that declaration and GICJ hopes to see that the continent remains committed.
Day of Remembrance articles by GICJ:
|Land Day in Palestine
|Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda
|Mine Awareness & Assistance in Mine Action
|Victims of the Crime of Genocide
|International Women's Day
|International Children's Day