When you see large groups of people – men, women and children, running together with nothing left in the world but what they can carry, to escape tyranny and pursue a safe and decent life, the heart cannot help but feel a twitch.
Unless you are living in a box, you must be aware that the world is in the grips of the largest refugee crisis since World War Two. A number of concurrent conflicts, centred mostly in the Middle East, have spurred mass migrations to the tune of approximately 60 million displacements worldwide. Over 40,000 people attempt to flee from persecution nearly every day, which is a staggering number.
The main trigger for the spike in refugee numbers has been the tragic situation in Syria. Since the uprising against Bashar Al-Assad in 2012, 12 million Syrians have emerged as refugees.
Of course, Syria is not the only source of refugees. US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have caused mass displacements from both of these countries. Other major conflict zones include South Sudan and Eritrea.
Europe has not seen such an influx of refugee for decades. Over half a million refugees have travelled to Europe since the beginning of the year, leaving the international community in a bit of a flux as to how to react. Predictably, several EU countries are experiencing political pressure from their populations to deal with this situation. While the German government has been quite welcoming in their response to the refugees flooding in, others such as the Hungarian government have been far less hospitable.
The Gulf states, despite spending significant amounts on refugee aid, are still drawing sharp criticism for their refusal to allow refugees in as per their immigration policies. On the other hand, neighbours Turkey and Lebanon have been accepting huge numbers of refugees since the Syrian crisis again. Turkey has taken in over two million refugees while Lebanon has over one million (an amazing statistic when one considers that the overall population of Lebanon without refugees is only over four million).
The UN clearly was not prepared for a refugee crisis of this magnitude. Many of the refugee camps set up in neighboring countries to Syria, for example, are crowded and living conditions are tough. Once refugees enter a new country, they frequently struggle to find some income or to integrate themselves into their new communities.
Many refugees, seeing little hope for improvement in their current condition, decided to take a dangerous journey by boat across the Mediterranean sea to reach Europe, in the hope of seeking asylum. Several of the border states they reached, such as Greece, are already in straightened financial conditions and were ill-prepared to incorporate the new population. It was left for some of the bigger states in Western Europe, several who are partially responsible for the situation in Syria to begin with, to open their doors.
Another refugee problem in the making is the one that doesn’t occupy the news. The Yemeni civil war and the subsequent bombing of it by its Gulf neighbors following a political takeover by Houthis has potentially created a similar problem of internal displacement in the country. With over 80% of the country in need of humanitarian aid and access to Saudi Arabia also walled off, the crisis there has just begun.
It may be easy to read these statistics and get depressed at the dark state of the world today. But it should be a call to action to assist those less fortunate in whatever capacity one can do so. A good source to start with for more information and how to contribute/volunteer is the local UNHCR office. Action can be a good antidote for grief in times like this.
Find out more on how you can help a refugee and make a difference here.
Featured Image Source: Huck Magazine