We are living in a world where people often speak about human rights. But it turns meaningless when we see the number of refugees around the world is increasing gradually. Most of these luckless refugees are largely living in their neighbouring countries, a fact reasserted in an annual report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The report said about 68.5 million people around the world were classified in 2017 as having been forcibly displaced because of conflict and persecution. This is the highest number since the end of World War II. Among them 25.4 million people are refugees who have fled to another country to escape war or persecution in their own country and who now receive special protections under international law. It is mentionable that in 1967, there were just over 2 million refugees around the world. Well, the current situation has led to one of the largest humanitarian crises. Maximum refugees are kept in camps but often they are not allowed to work outside the camp areas. Without durable solutions and receiving little or no aid, they strive for their survival in despair. In desperation, some move to urban areas, but they are not allowed to work there either. Others try to travel to wealthier countries in Europe risking their lives, often drowning in the sea. The humanitarian crisis in the refugee camps makes their life miserable whereas the gradual increase in their number affects the overall situation of the host country.
Among all the refugees the large group includes some 12 million Syrians who have been uprooted by the conflict since 2011, 2.7 million Afghan refugees registered by UNHCR, another 3 million undocumented Afghans who are estimated to be living in Pakistan and Iran, and more than 778,700 refugees from South Sudan, majority of whom have fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. In addition, there are more than 620,000 Sudanese refugees, most of whom are living in Chad and South Sudan, and about 540,000 Congolese refugees. Congo is also a leading host that accommodates more than 380,000 refugees who fled crisis in Burundi, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Rwanda. Meanwhile, decade-long conflicts and political repression in Myanmar have forced more than 1,000,000 people out of the country who have now taken refuge in Bangladesh.
More than half of the refugees around the globe are under the age of 18, even though children make up 31 percent of the world’s population. Many of these kids are fleeing alone. In 2016, according to UNHCR, 75,000 children applied for asylum as unaccompanied minors. Most were from Afghanistan and Syria. The country receiving the greatest number of requests for asylum for these children was Germany (35,900).
Countries that accept large numbers of refugees are struggling to meet their health care needs. Lebanon is the most extreme case: its population has increased by about 25% to almost 6 million owing to the influx of refugees, according to the UNHCR. Many refugees suffer not only from infectious, communicable, non‐communicable or chronic diseases, but also from severe mental health problems owing to stress and traumatic experiences. Refugees can be exposed to various stress factors throughout the journey that may negatively impact their mental health status, including pre‐migration factors such as persecution and economic hardship, migration factors like physical danger and separation, as well as post‐migration factors including detention, hostility and uncertainty.
The most painful fact is that most of the refugees become bound to move to the least developed countries. The presence of refugees compounds the already prevailing economic, environmental, social and, at times, political difficulties in these countries. Often such countries are confronted by a combination of all four of these factors. Moreover, in many refugee situations, problems are aggravated when the number of refugees surpasses the amount of locals, if not national population. For example, in Nepal, in the district of Jhapa, 90,000 refugees represent over 13 per cent of the local population. In Ngara, in the United Republic of Tanzania, the recent refugee influxes meant that the local population was outnumbered by a ratio of approximately 4: 1. The presence of refugees and their demands already severely strained economy, services and infrastructure affecting the local populations. In many instances, refugees become an added impediment to the development efforts of the host country. Their negative aspects may be felt long after a refugee problem is solved. For example, the damage to environment is a process and does not end with the repatriation of the refugees.
The presence of a large refugee population in rural areas inevitably means a strain on the local administration. Host country’s national and regional authorities divert considerable resources and manpower from the pressing demands of their own development to the urgent task of keeping refugees alive. While most of the host governments generally have demonstrated a willingness to bear many of these costs, they are understandably reluctant to pay, as a price for giving asylum, the cost of additional infrastructure that may be needed to accommodate refugees.
Refugee settlements often occur in environmentally sensitive areas. In Africa, refugees have therefore usually been settled in semi-arid, agriculturally marginal areas or forest reserves. Refugee camps tend to be large for both logistical and political reasons. These large camps have a more negative impact on the environment as they need huge number of firewood for cooking every day. Furthermore, refugees often have to stay in their countries of asylum for extended periods, and the impact on the environment around camps is prolonged.
The economic impact of refugees on the host areas, however, is not necessarily negative, if planned properly. An economic stimulus may be generated by the presence of refugees and can lead to the opening and development of the host regions. This stimulus takes place through the local purchase of food, non-food items, shelter materials by agencies supplying relief items, disbursements made by aid workers, the assets brought by refugees themselves, as well as employment and income accrued to local population, directly or indirectly, through assistance projects for refugee areas. The presence of refugees also contributes to the creation of employment benefiting the local population, directly or indirectly. Beyond humanitarian concerns, countries around the world are missing out on the opportunity to welcome refugees as a potential source of knowledge, skill and economic development.
For example - countries like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan have had numerous waves of refugees crossing its borders over decades. Rather than segregating refugees in camps in forced indolence, the country has chosen to allow refugees freedom of movement and the opportunity to work. The result is that in the capital city of Kampala, 21% of refugees own a business that employs at least one person and 40% of the people they employ are host nationals. Similarly, Jordan has taken in between 600,000 and 1 million Syrian refugees—a huge number for a country with a population of less than 10 million people. It has established special economic zones, where Syrians are given the right to work in certain industries and companies. They also have practical incentives. These cases show that if refugees have more opportunities and better lives in neighbouring countries, they are unlikely to feel the need to travel further abroad.
The most common reason to be refugees is persecution — which can take on many forms: religious, national, social, racial or political. It all happens because of war or when regional powers decide to show their capacity to ensure political or economic benefits. When the countries talk about establishing stability and security, they only mean for themselves. When military interventions in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or any other country had happened in the name of war against terrorism or fight to establish democracy, the occupiers did not think about the horrendous consequences that might follow. Thus today millions of refugees are struggling for their irresponsible move. The world needs to address their problems so that the number of refugees doesn’t increase and already-displaced people get the chance to lead a meaningful life.