As Khaled Hosseini said for the joined initiative “Stars ask you to stand #WithRefugees” with the United Nation Refugee Agency:
“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”
— Khaled Hosseini (UNHCR, 2016)
The refugee crisis is something, that everyone has heard off. It was daily in the news and still is always a good topic for headlines. Discussions about how to include them in the society, living situations in refugee camps, transfer back of refugees to their homeland and if they even should be led in are highly discussed on a daily bases. The quote shows the human side to the problem, because nobody asked to be in the situation to be forced to leave their country. To the situation is a political side as well not only on a national level, but international as well. I would like to invite you to take a look with me at some of the frameworks and programs. This topic is broad any many aspects would need to be considered in order to give you the chance to formulate your own opinion I will give fact parts as well as my own view based on these facts.
Every 2 seconds one person is forced to leave their home because of a conflict or persecution. 2 second – take this in, because this is over 40.000 people a day. Daily over 40 000 people are looking for a new and safe place but would you stay in a place where you have to frightened for your life and the person closest to you? According to the United Nations, there are 25.9 million refugees. The number of displaced persons is even higher. A displaced person did not cross the border of their home country or sought protection from a different nation (UNHCR, Globaltrends, 2019). The graph is rising consistently and has reached the highest number of refugees since 1990. This can be seen in the graph below from the World Bank Data Centre (TheWorldBank, 2019). Let us raise a question here: Is It possible for each country on their own to solve this crisis?
(TheWorldBank, 2019) https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SM.POP.REFG
Overview of the Situation
Countries such as Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, and Jordan accepted the most refugees in 2016. For a short overview:
- Jordan (2.7 million+)
- Turkey (2.5 million+)
- Pakistan (1.6 million)
- Lebanon (1.5 million+)
- Iran (979,400)
These numbers are the total of accepted refugees. A second way to measure a countries willingness to accept refugees is to focus on the number of accepted refugees in proportion to the total amount of citizens. In 2016 Amnesty international made the proposition that the 10 richest country except 10% of the planets total refugees every year. Canada was given as an example because it accepted 30.000 refugees in 2011 and is the only country to let in the 10%. The problem is that things such as available living space are unique to each country and therefore some countries will struggle to fulfill that quote (BorgenMagazine, 2016). This problem is far from new and is already discussed internationally, which can be seen on the example of the Refugee Convention 1951 of the UN. The term “refugee” got defined there and what legal protection a person with the status refugee can await from the “hosting country”.
Find the Refugee convention document here to answer the question in detail on who is recognized as a refuge: https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10
In the refugee’s convention document is recognized because of extreme circumstances the person who seeks asylum may not have the chance to go through the immigration process legally. Usually, if you immigrate to another country, you will go to the embassy and start the paperwork, often it is connected to other conditions such as being able to do a test in the language of the chosen state. To make it more visual, maybe you remember the scene Asterix and Obelix film where they need “Permit A38”. It can feel the same way with different application procedures. The refereed scene can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI5kwSap9Ug
(start at minute: 1:58) (dvorgers, 2009)
The convention defines further the rights of a refugee in the hosting country: access to primary education, work, and courts as well as providing necessary documents such as a passport to travel with. The complete document is 50 pages and even provides possible examples of paperwork for countries to adopt. The convention is closely connected to a protocol of 1967 on the same topic from the UN, which goes more into detail about the protection of refugees. 148 states complied with the convention (UNHCR, 1967 Protocol, 1989).
This is the framework for a possible global solution, but not all of 193 countries even accept the term refugee. This shows how difficult it is to create a solution. My thoughts are that all processes need time, but on this one, we are working already over 50 years and are not near an end. The opposite is the case since more populistic and nationalistic parties are gaining political power a global solution gets pushed further away. On the other hand, I clearly see the point that not every country has the resources necessary to host that many people and do the administrative work that come with it. Therefore must an international solution be unequal for each country?
New Development on International Stage?
More recently the international community discussed a new program for refugees: “The Global Compact”. The key points of the discussion were:
- Ease the pressures on host countries.
- Enhance refugee self-reliance.
- Expand access to third-country solutions.
- Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.
(UNHCR, The Global Compact on Refugees, 2020)
As you see there were several attemps during the last 50 years but I would question the effectiveness to the raising numbers on refugees and the current refugee crisis in Europe.
Apart from the international framework this topic and the reaction of a state is often influenced by the opinion and tendency of the citizens as well. To measure that “The Gallup Migrant Acceptance Index” was created. It is showing the results of a 3-question survey conducted in 138 countries in 2016 and 2017. Countries are rated on how accepting the overall population view is on migration (Esipova, Fleming, & Ray, 2017).
Some of these scores reflect on the number of how often the refugee’s status was granted from a country at other times it is reflecting the citizens of a country feel overwhelmed by the numbers on people looking for asylum. Countries that are overwhelmed are often the neighboring countries of states with crisis. These countries are taking the most responsibility in accepting refugees and it is not shared worldwide equally.
To get back to the original thought: a global solution. At the moment there are countries that are taking more refugees than others, often just because of their location. It is understandable that the process can be frustrating for the citizens because they need to adapt as well and show openness and accept that in an extreme situation not always the best behavior shows and that speaking the mother language gives comfort instead of trying to learn the new language of the host country. The problem is when there are too many people and they can form their own community and no longer need to try to adapt. This creates true frustration. To wish somebody a better and safe life is natural but not on the costs of my self – this is I guess the best way to describe the general mindset. Only if the willingness to help and adapt can get together there is the chance of creating a solution and it starts at the local level. One solution for a local level is described in the next paragraph.
A possible international solution?
A leading example for a worldwide cooperation could be Argentina, because without being directly involved in the Syrian conflict, it excepted Syrian refugees.
The stand the Argentine government is taking was made clear by the president Alberto Ángel Fernández: “There is a part of the world in every corner of my country,” and “development does not end at the border” (UN, 2016).
Why is this important?
As the first country, which is not European, Argentina accepted in 2016 3000 refugees from Syria and created a beginning to an international solution to the European refugee crisis. The next step was achieved when the non-governmental organization “Blue Rose Compass” was willing to provide 1000 scholarships for women from Syria and provided therefore the first step to get the woman registered as Argentine citizens.
This new stand of Argentina is the opposite of its policies in the 1990s where the laws became restrictive and differentiated between natural-born citizens and migrants. Only in 2005 by signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the situation changed (UNHCR).
Let’s take a look into an example from the Argentine program. Important to know is here that there had to be a caller in Argentina to provide for the refugee in their first year over there. Therefore, the refugee needed family members or friends, who live in Argentina as a connection. It is difficult to judge this method since it looks like the state is doing nothing at this point but hopes that the connection between the caller and refugee will make the transition for everyone easier. Tony Kassab was one of the refugees. His uncle already lived over 20 years in Argentina and was running a restaurant. Taking the offered Spanish classes and trying to understand the new culture, gave Tony an advantage. The state is providing the tools such as legal advice offices, language courses or local volunteering, which shall create bonds between citizens and refugees. Not everyone will have it as easy as Tony to adapt and not for every country it is the right way (Bernas, 2017).
It is one example of a successful immigration by being openminded and accepting help. It works because family and friends are already adapted to the host countries situation. Therefore the motivation is higher. Comfort is not found in speaking the mother language but by being with family members. This will not work for all 40 000 refugees daily and would have high logistical efforts because families need to be able to contact each other and be both in a place where it is possible to do the necessary paperwork. To find this while you just leave your home in a rush on a maybe dangerous way and poor infrastructure, will be nearly impossible. Argentinas example shows as well a bit of hope for a global solution since the country itself is now more positive in taking in refugees than in the past. This means not every country takes a more nationalistic stand on this topic currently.
Argentina’s stand is one of the two general stands countries have shown currently or in the past. There is, on one hand, Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, and others offering help based on their policies and welcome refugees as well as viewing them as a possible resource. The other stand is taking quite firm by countries which are “closing” of its borders such as Russia, Malaysia, and Japan (Osborne, 2017). The problem should be solved in the home country not and by countries who are responsible for the conflict. The Russian Parliament member Valery Rashkin following was said: “flooded with poorly qualified immigrant laborers” (Ragozin, 2017) and he is implying that these workers are stealing jobs in Russia. The official line of Russia is not too extreme since workers are needed and refugees are still excepted. Nevertheless, there is a high fee refugees need to pay per month if they want to work in Russia. Around 66% of Russians support a tighter control on immigration according to a survey, since the fear of terror is still present (Ragozin, 2017). The understanding is if they loosen up policies regarding refugees and immigration, it might be easier for terrorists to enter the country unnoticed.
In conclusion, there are attempts to create a global solution for the refugee crisis. Apart from defining certain status for refugees, it is currently in the hand of the states and in their sovereignty to define how to deal with fleeing people. The question is if it is possible for each country on its own to deal with the increasing numbers of refugees. It is good to remember that the persons, who are fleeing their homeland did not self-inflict the problems there and they are themselves just a victim by the course of actions.
In my eyes, a global solution is far in the future but there are attempts and some of them show success. Current political trends are not in favor of refugees and the other question is still if a global solution is necessary. It would be in my understanding to deal with the problem globally based on the increasing numbers and the living conditions in the camps, which are shown in the media. For the conflict which caused the refugee crisis is as well no solution and it is debated internationally. Since the problem is hard to solve the effects will not easier to be solved. It is the same as in every big problem and since there is no global solution: we should start at the lowest level possible and this starts by seeing the person in front of us as a human with a family. An open mindset on both sides will help everyone further.
Bernas, F. (2017). Syrian refugees reap benefits of Argentina’s new visa rules . Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from UNHCR: https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2017/11/5a0586774/syrian-refugees-reap-benefits-argentinas-new-visa-rules.html?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=e76872eedf6fda932f881269c01bf1023bf9a7e6-1583211542-0-AesTDMRIO_VGSv6CWnJEOYCrQQcdh7hgQvFEz-srkC_TTjDWCD48xMeZ2uibIVBxp0A
BorgenMagazine. (2016). 10 Countries That Accept the Most Refugees. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from Borgen Magazine:https://www.borgenmagazine.com/10-countries-that-accept-refugees/
dvorgers. (2009). You Tube. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI5kwSap9Ug
Esipova, N., Fleming, J., & Ray, J. (August 2017). New Index Shows Least-, Most-Accepting Countries for Migrants. GALLUP: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/216377/new-index-shows-least-accepting-countries-migrants.aspx
Google. (2015). Help refugees and migrants in urgent need. twitter: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://twitter.com/google/status/643894201374130176
Osborne, S. (2017). World’s most and least welcoming countries for migrants. Independent: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/world-welcoming-migrant-countries-least-most-uk-refugee-crisis-us-australia-eastern-europe-a7908766.html
Ragozin, L. (2017). Russia Wants Immigrants the World Doesn’t. Bloomberg: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-03-14/russia-s-alternative-universe-immigrants-welcome
TheWorldBank. (2019). Refugee population by country or territory of asylum. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SM.POP.REFG
UN.(2016). General Assembly of the United Nations, General Debate. H.E. Mr. Mauricio Macri, President: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://gadebate.un.org/en/71/argentina
UNHCR. (1951). convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10
UNHCR. (July 1989). 1967 Protocol. Implementation of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.unhcr.org/excom/scip/3ae68cbe4/implementation-1951-convention-1967-protocol-relating-status-refugees.html
UNHCR. (June 2016). Stars ask you to stand #WithRefugees. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/6/57625e2e4/stars-ask-you-to-stand-withrefugees.html
UNHCR. (2019). Globaltrends. TRENDS AT A GLANCE – Review 2018: Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2018/
UNHCR. (2020). The Global Compact on Refugees. Retrieved on April, 02 2020 from https://www.unhcr.org/the-global-compact-on-refugees.html