The Refugee System: Our Shared Global Responsibility

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day is observed on June 20th. Refugees are functions of war, violence, hatred, and are the first victims of terrorism. The purpose of this day is to recognize the adversities of refugees worldwide which is achieved through organizations, such as Amnesty International, which participate in various activities. These activities include, but are not limited to: activist protests, petitions to governments on the treatment of refugees and the visiting of asylum seekers in detention by organization members. This annual observance raises global awareness and sparks conversation on the ever-increasing refugee plight.

The UN Refugee Agency Global Trends report indicated that in 2016, 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced. Two thirds of these people are internally displaced with Syria, Iraq and Colombia boasting the largest internal displacement statistics. The remaining portion of refugees are asylum seekers across international borders. The location of countries to regions of conflict impacts the number of refugees that they receive.  Many developing countries are situated closer to these hostile regions therefore 84% of asylum seekers settle in these areas. According to Time, Lebanon hosted more refugees than the total number of asylum seekers in the European Union in 2015. Countries that account for 57% of global GDP host fewer than 9% of all refugees. This includes wealthier countries such as Italy and Greece, that are dealt the same cards as third world countries with large waves of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East due to their location. Concurrently with the imposition of refugees on countries as a function of their location, the prosperous first world holds a fairly isolationist position on housing refugees. These countries and their citizens are concerned that their way of life is threatened if their borders are not secured. This is evidenced by the standpoint of European Union member countries: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who believe they are worse off facing an influx of migrants than they are sanctions from the EU for refusing to accept refugees and migrants.

Kofi Annan has concluded that there are challenges in creating a fair refugee policy that can balance a common humanitarian goal alongside domestic political agendas. The system has been built for short term emergencies but cannot withstand the enduring crisis of refugees. Among the problem is the lack of international consensus for hosting refugees. Perhaps it is time to shift the mindset from a focus solely towards safety and security of borders to a more compassionate approach. It is imperative that this shift begins with an undivided attention and energy directed towards the origins of the conflicts within governments that displace people. Beyond these conflicts, citizens alike have a moral duty to stand in solidarity and to aspire to integrate refugees in the social, economic and cultural arenas of their communities. While there is power in a day set aside for observance, it is imperative that this discussion goes beyond and takes the forefront of our daily conversations.

~Tyra Timm

Intern, World Affairs Council

Photo credit: The New York Times