Opinion

Just Giving ‘Refuge’ isn’t Enough

Millions of people are forced to leave their country to find asylum in foreign lands. These other countries are not always willing to accept them.

The present-day refugee crisis amounts to 70.8 million forcibly displaced people globally — the highest displacement recorded since 11 million displaced in World War II, according to UNHCRs (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report. While the current situation is not a world war yet, most countries are involved in it either directly or diplomatically.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “refuge” as “protection or shelter from danger, trouble, etc.” The keyword here is “shelter.” From the multiple refugee crises the world has seen over the past decade, it’s obvious refugees need and are entitled to much more than a roof over their heads.

Multiple organizations and nations advocate for a basic standard of living and health for refugees but there’s barely a system of checks that helps alleviate the conditions — most refugee settlements are nothing better than distressed slum-dwellings.

Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar, were forced to flee to Bangladesh to escape the systematic violence and persecution following the 2012 Rakhine riots. A report by UNICEF shows up to 25 percent of Rohingya refugee children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and more than half have acute respiratory infections.

The prevalent rates of malnutrition and health risks across various countries demonstrate a dilution of resources and negligence of their state. Due to the poor health conditions and lack of appropriate nutrition, they become less capable of approaching mental and physical normalcy to get back on their feet.

For refugees, the right to education and work are instrumental in becoming self-reliant. Unfortunately, labor laws of several countries, such as Lebanon, place numerous barriers and hurdles in the path of refugee employment.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the refugee admissions ceiling has been slashed by nearly a third — from 85,000 in 2006 to only 30,000 in 2019 — as per a report by the U.S. Department of State. Moreover, it was not amended with the change in circumstances around the world, specifically for those affected by the upheavals in Venezuela and Central America.

While it’s possible for refugee host nations to receive financial assistance from the United Nations and other international organizations, there isn’t an efficient way to allocate the limited resources without diluting the supply. Water and food scarcity are growing at a rate faster than before — thanks to overpopulation and climate change. Stats from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 820 million people — 10.8 percent of the world’s population — were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2018.

This dilution of resources also comes with a lack of employment opportunities and individual advancement. While migration is controlled by the means of visa issuance, with refugees, it becomes a more delicate decision to put a cap on the influx of people. This might lead to agitation among the residents of the country as it would modify the employment equilibrium for the nation, and possibly lead to a larger demand for jobs than available. 

The growing refugee population in developing and third-world countries adds pressure on a macro level, and also causes the residents to feel threatened by the competition for resources.

In Lebanon, a politically and economically challenged country, Syrian refugees constitute one-fourth of the population. The number of people living under the poverty line in Lebanon has risen by 66 percent since 2011 — the year the Syrian war began — according to a report by Oxfam, a global organization that works to alleviate poverty.

Providing refuge in nations already struck with a multitude of economic and political challenges not only jeopardizes the quality of life of the resident population but the refugees also stand more vulnerable to illnesses, malnutrition and trauma. This often leads to crime and harm inflicted upon the refugees, such as assault and human trafficking.

Countries that host a large number of refugees, such as Bangladesh, don’t have sufficient resources to alleviate pre-existing poverty and elevate living standards for its residents. More than half of the Bangladeshis believe there aren’t enough job opportunities for them, compared to less than 50 percent of the refugee population feeling that way, according to a study by Xchange.

For such developing countries with tremendous income disparities and turbulent political history in the recent past, it’s difficult to see how they are fit to host refugees. However, those capable of hosting refugees in more hospitable conditions choose to turn their backs.

The Trump administration, during the peak of the Venezuelan crisis in the early half of this year, ignored its ability to prioritize trauma-struck Venezuelans in its ever-shrinking refugee and migration system, and resisted using Temporary Protected Status for them.

Time and again, the U.S. has failed to live up to its claimed position as a powerful world leader by demonstrating injustice and a lack of compassion.

It’s essential to revise the pedagogical approach for the betterment of refugees in an attempt to make it more holistic and tailor to the current needs. This process starts with the revision of existing policies, without alienating the refugee population or the residents and citizens of the host nation. Of course, it’s of utmost importance to record the responses to such policy changes on both ends, and to instigate acceptance and tolerance in both groups of people. Additionally, the need of the hour is to develop a ‘checks and balances’ system in the enforcement of refugee rights and protection at every level.

While it’s relatively less feasible to direct the inflow of refugees from places farther away to countries that will find it viable to support the refugees, it’s inhumane to close doors to countries well in proximity and in need of aid the other nations can provide.

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