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 “We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone”, Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, heralds. ‘Global Trends’, the yearly report published by UNHCR unravels the contemporary state of global population of forcibly displaced people. “Globally, the forcibly displaced population increased in 2017 by 2.9 million. By the end of the year, 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence”, the UN Refugee Agency enunciates in the report. Among 16.2 million newly displaced people, 11.8 million are internally displaced and the remaining were refugees who fled to other countries and also the asylum seekers. These findings quintessentially pronounce that “the world’s forcibly displaced population remained yet again at a record high”. A 50% increase from the 2007 figure of 42.7 million to the present number questions the so called “progress” of the world. The stark reality is that on the one side of the world, people are awaiting to embrace the next era of artificial intelligence, whereas, somewhere around the other side, many people are living in the worst-case scenario in war/conflict ridden land.

According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council; 40 million people belong to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) group. Last year, 11.8 million individuals were newly displaced within the boundaries of their nations. Refugees, both under UNHCR and UNRWA’s mandate, reckon to 25.4 million, and include 5.4 million Palestine refugees and 19.9 million other refugees. Expecting a positive nod to their applications, about 3.1 million asylum seekers are struggling to migrate to a better place. However, 5 million displaced people, including 667,400 refugees, returned to their areas or countries of origin in 2017. Nevertheless, the high rate of new displacements withers the triumph.

The origins of the so called ‘Global Refugee Crisis’ can be traced back to World Wars, particularly the Second War (1939-45). “World War II saw the greatest displacement of people from their homes in the 20th century, with forced laborers dwelling in the lands of the German Reich, millions of ethnic Germans expelled from the Soviet Union, and millions more fleeing the increasingly harsh regime of Joseph Stalin”(Washington Post). Almost eight decades after the beginning of Second World War, an average of 44,400 people are being forced to flee from their homes every day in 2017. “Today 1 out of every 110 people in the world is displaced”, the report says. A brief reading of history will divulge the evolution of the global refugee crisis.

Second World War and Post-war Years

Forced displacement, mass evacuation, deportation of people, expulsion and subsequent genocides, ethnic cleansing, human rights violations and targeted civilian killings were the reasons behind the displacement of around 40 million people in Europe. As the aftermath of Generalplan Ost (GPO) in Poland, the Nazis plan for the genocide and ethnic cleansing, millions of Poles were expelled. In the early 40s, it is estimated that around 1.5 million Poles were deported by Soviets in four mass waves. Soviet Union also deported the Volga Germans, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Ingrian Finns, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks (1940-44). Serbian genocide, Kosovo & Metohija ethnic cleansing, Istrian-Dalmatian exodus, Continuation War, Lapland War and massacres in Backa (ethnic cleansing of Hungarians) were some of the occasions when the people of Europe experienced the nightmare scenario. “The refugee crisis created across formerly occupied territories in World War II provided the context for much of the new international refugee and global human rights architecture existing today” (Amnesty International).

Even though the World War ended in 1945, the conflicts and violations continued which resulted in more displacement of people. Operation Vistula (forced deportation of Ukrainian speaking ethnic minorities from Polish territories), Japanese repatriation from Huludao, repatriation of Cossacks and so on were some among those post-war movements. In total, these conflicts displaced 1 million Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians (1948-50) and 13 million Germans were displaced from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Poland (1945-50). During the same period an estimated 11.3 million forced laborers were displaced from European countries to Germany. A decade later in Hungary, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and Yugoslavia when the Soviet army suppressed the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.

The independence of India which coincided with the partition of the “Raj” into two nations displaced 14 million Indians and Pakistanis in 1947. The formation of a Jewish state after a bloodshed war in Palestine led to an exodus of 750,000 people to nearby West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon between 1948 and 1950. The Palestinian Issue is not yet solved and a separate agency, UNRWA, was set up to aid and assist them. The West Asia, one of the most politically instable regions in the world where every forms of violations and violence exists now. The Palestinian Exodus and the ensuing Arab- Israel conflicts and other civil conflicts cause unrest in the West Asian region. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 385,000 political dissidents took flight from China to Hong Kong in the early 50s. In 1954-56 periods, Roman Catholics, nearly 1 million, went to South of Vietnam following the formation of Communist Government in North Vietnam. The years between 1945 and 1960 the aforementioned disarticulations occurred around the world.

In order to provide humanitarian assistance and aid to refugees, in 1943, UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was established. In 1947, it was replaced by International Refugee Organization (IRO) and in 1950 it evolved into UNHCR which has since providing help and assistance for refugees and other displaced groups.

Decolonization, Cold War and post- Cold War period

The latter half of 20th century began with decolonization movements in Asia and Africa. “Wars of independence and the civil conflict that followed sent millions flooding out of Algeria, Congo, Angola, Nigeria and others into neighboring countries, and newly minted military regimes often uprooted ethnic communities even after peace was restored” (Washington Post). The Algerian War of Independence (1960), Belgian-supported Hutu coup d’état in Rwanda (early 60s), Biafran War in Nigeria (1967), Somali invasion of Ethiopia (1977-79), Ethiopian invasion of Eritrea (1978-84), the rebellion against white nationalist rule in Rhodesia (1979), Civil War in Mozambique (1976-92) and the Rwandan genocide (1994) made the continent a perpetually volatile with massacres, targeted civilian killings, militant attacks, genocides and ethnic conflicts. These violent and bloodshed conflicts often displaced people continuously from one place to other.

The 8 year period between 1981 and 1989 was of Civil Wars in Central America which displaced 2 million people from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala to Honduras, Belize Costa Rica and Mexico. South East Asia has also experienced civil wars and conflicts. Major among them was the Vietnam War which displaced 2.7 million Vietnamese from the South to North who were fighting the war (1965-72). Following this 800,000 Vietnamese from Vietnam went to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia in the post-war decades (1975-95). The role of U.S in Vietnam was criticized globally. Civil Wars in Laos (1976) and Cambodia (1976-85) and the Burmese expulsion of Rohingyas from 1978 (still an issue in Arakan regions) were other episodes of massive displacements in the sub-region. Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, liberation from Pakistan with the help of India, thousands of people from the then East Bengal fled to India (approximately 10 million).

The Six Days War or the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 further created 300,000 Palestinian refugees who find refuge in nearby countries. The Black September (1970) conflict in Jordan and the Gulf War (1991) became the reasons for other refugee crises in West Asia. Iran- Iraq war in the 1980s displaced 600,000 people from Iraq to Iran and the Iraqi suppression of rebel movement displaced 1.82 million, including Iraqis and Kurds, in 1991.

After Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan was the arena for Cold War-proxy wars. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created one of the biggest refugee crises in the history. The mayhem that began in 1979 displaced 6.3 million people so far. Indonesian suppression of East Timor in late 1990s, the secessionist fighting in Georgia (1989-93), Serbian revocation of Kosovo’s independent status (1989-99), conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh (1990), war of independence and subsequent ethnic cleansing in Croatia (1991), Civil War in Tajikistan (1992), Chechen declaration of independence and the Russian suppression of independence movement (1991-94), and conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994-95) were some of the other events in the 20th century that made the ordinary civilian life miserable and were compelled to leave their homeland.

Refugee Crisis in 21st Century

The century started with a decline in the global displacement levels in the early 2000s. But the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003, called Operation Iraqi freedom, shattered the dream of perpetual peace and end of forced displacement disasters. The massive displacement of 1.9 million Iraqis in second Persian Gulf War (2003-11) and the non-state actors led violence which followed the war created an atmosphere of terror in Iraq. The political game of U.S, “global war on terror”, and the interventions in domestic politics of many countries in the region gave rise to militant activities and violence. The region became a battleground for state and non-state actors to fight. The instability of the region made civilian life dreadful and terrible. At present, there are 3.3 million Iraqis displaced.

Syria was an asylum for many of the refugees from Palestine, Iraq and other countries. It was the largest refugee hosting country in the first decade of this century. The clouds of misery appeared in the sky of Syria. The Arab Spring made a significant influence on in Syrians. The peaceful demonstration against the regime was the beginning of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. “After war erupted in March 2011, it took two years for 1 million people to be displaced. Another million were displaced within six months. Now seven years on, more than half of the pre-war population has been internally displaced or forced to seek safety in neighboring countries. That’s more than 11 million people on the run, including some 6.3 million people who have escaped across the borders” (Mercy Corps). “As of the end of 2017, there were 12.6 million forcibly displaced Syrians, comprising around 6.3 million refugees, 146,700 asylum-seekers, and 6.2 million IDPs”, says the UNHCR.

In South America, especially in Colombia, the long running fight between the rebel forces and the government made the country the second-largest displaced population with 7.9 million victims of conflict; the majority of them were IDPs (7.7 million). The military regime’s persecution of ethnic minorities, Rohingya, in Myanmar which according to UN the textbook example of “ethnic cleansing”, led to a flow of refugees to nearby countries, Bangladesh in particular. Rohingya population is stateless people because of the citizenship law of Myanmar which denies the right to them. Over 2017, 655,500 arrived in Bangladesh, mainly concentrated in 100 days from the end of August. The act of repression by the military in Myanmar invited worldwide condemnation from other countries.

African countries are simultaneously countries of origin for refugees and host other refugees. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the third-largest displacement situation in the world with 5.1 million Congolese forcibly displaced. The refugees of 2011 Libyan Civil War fled to neighboring counties and to Europe via Mediterranean (the ‘boat people’). The flow of Somali refugees to Kenya due to domestic violence and poverty is another issue in Africa. Civil War that broke out in South Sudan in 2013 has already displaced more than 4.4 million people.

According to UNHCR, “some 4.8 million Afghans remained forcibly displaced in 2017 and other large displaced populations at the end of 2017 included people from South Sudan (4.4 million), Iraq (3.3 million), Somalia (3.2 million), Sudan (2.7 million), Yemen (2.1 million), Nigeria (2.0 million), and Ukraine (2.0 million).”

Global Trends Report 2017

Some of the important statistics regarding global population of forcibly displaced people from the UNHCR report are given below.

  • Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people were a refugee under the responsibility of UNHCR. Jordan (1 in 14) and Turkey (1 in 23) ranked second and third, respectively. When Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate are included, the figures rise to 1 in 4 for Lebanon and 1 in 3 for Jordan.
  • Developing regions hosted 85 per cent of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, about 16.9 million people. The least developed countries provided asylum to a growing proportion, amounting to one-third of the global total (6.7 million refugees).
  • Asylum-seekers submitted 1.7 million new asylum claims. With 331,700 such claims, the United States of America was the world’s largest recipient of new individual applications, followed by Germany (198,300), Italy (126,500), and Turkey (126,100).
  • In 2017, UNHCR submitted 75,200 refugees to States for resettlement, a 54 per cent drop from 2016 due to the decline in resettlement quotas. According to government statistics, 102,800 refugees were admitted for resettlement during the year, with or without UNHCR’s assistance.
  • Altogether, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries: Syria (6.3million), Afghanistan (2.6million), South Sudan (2.4 million), Myanmar (1.2million) and Somalia (986,400).
  • For the fourth consecutive year, Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 3.5 million people. The other main countries of asylum for refugees were: Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million), Lebanon (998,900), Iran (979,400), Germany (970,400), Bangladesh (935,200) and Sudan (906,600).
  • The refugee population in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 1.1 million (22 per cent) during 2017, mainly due to the crisis in South Sudan, from where more than 1 million people fled primarily to Sudan and Uganda. With 6.3 million refugees, this region hosted almost one-third of the world’s refugee population.

Determination and Courage

“For a world in conflict, what is needed is determination and courage, not fear” (Filippo Grandi). The refugee crises are not a regional phenomenon any more, it is global in every sense. Next year will mark a century since the end of First World War. But the world is still in conflicts. Even after the Second World War, many bloodshed wars happened around the world. The Global south countries or the developing and least developed countries are severely affected by civil war, human right violations, ethnic conflicts, poverty, climate change and many other issues. The development of all these countries is hindered by these issues. The social and political conditions in many countries are pathetic. The superpower countries are using the wars as an opportunity to enhance their weapon and arms trade. The basic ethics of humanity and empathy is lost. The politics of balance of power, hegemony and economic prosperity through profit, blinded these countries that are capable of solving these issues.

The so called rich, developed ‘global north’ countries in the world system must show the courage to put an end to this conflicts and violence. An end to refugee crises is not possible in the near future. It requires comprehensive plans and international co-operation between nations.  Other than the traditional solutions, the world nations must coordinate and plan effective mechanism to tackle the crises. It is possible if the powerhouses show some mercy or sympathy to their fellow nations. Instead of creating more premises for war, the nations should engage in activities to make peace, security and stability. Many countries which are very poor to face poverty and other human development issues must get aid and assistance from the rich countries. Some people may say that a world where everyone nations interact in the language of love and there exist a perpetual peace is a utopian dream, we can move towards achieving that. Because when we are sleeping and living a safe and secure life, many others are denied even the right to speak and are facing abuses all the time. There is a big inequality and injustice present in this world. It should be rectified. All that we need is the courage to change the status quo and challenge the system. In front of our strong determination to change this world all the hurdles will disappear.

Gokul K.S Currently, a Post-Graduation Degree student in International Relations and Politics at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam and writes Malayalam articles in the blog www.lanthanbathery.wordpress.com )

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