Saturday, February 4, 2017

Shifting Focus: Refugee Crisis in Developing World

Photo: A Syrian refugee praying at the water station in Zaatari camp, Jordan

Shifting Focus: Refugee Crisis in Developing World


By Bidya Subedi

On the first day of our AGI-Rome Program, we met with Fr. Thomas Smolich from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). JRS plays a critical role in educating refugees to help them interact and communicate with other people on camp and most importantly to build skills to response to the emergency crisis. During his presentation, Fr. Smolich said, “86% of forcibly displaced people are hosted by developing countries.” Furthermore, according to UNHCR (2016), the top refugee-hosting countries were Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (979,400), Ethiopia (736,100), and Jordon (664,100). However, European Union’s top receiving countries were Germany with more than 300,000 and Sweden with 100,00. The numbers provided by Fr. Smolich’s presentation and UNHCR surprised me because it contradicted with my as well as most Westerners understanding of refugee crisis. UNHCR: Figures at Glace

Initially, I was surprised to learn that Pakistan and other developing countries were hosting a large number of refugees than the European countries because most of these countries are facing their own economic and social challenges. In fact, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres highlighted that “The economic, social and human cost of caring of refugees and the internally displaced is being borne mostly by poor communities, those who are least able to afford it.” Full Report: UNHCR report shows world’s poorest countries host most refugees.

Figure: Top hosting countries, UNHCR

While in Rome, we met one of the refugees who fled his home country, Kenya, because of political reasons and for safety. He said “You become a refugee not by choice. It can happen to anyone.” Thousands of people from Africa, Middle East, and Asia arrive in European shores because they have no choice. They were the victims of war and conflict, poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, and human trafficking. Since the situations in home country is not getting better and transit countries, like Turkey and Libya, are dealing with their own economic, political and social issues, refugees are forced to make their move to European countries for safety and better opportunities. Christopher Hein from Italian Refugee Council touched on this issue during our meeting in Rome. He mentioned that in 2011-2013, all the Syrian refugees were residing in Turkey and other neighboring countries in the hope to go back to their country. The decision to make their journey to Europe was only taken when there was no hope to return to their countries. Then came reasons such as possibilities of work or jobs and economic stabilities in European countries. I think the leaders of European countries should be mindful of the fact that refugees risk their lives to arrive in European coast to escape conflicts and other inhumane circumstances. Economic opportunities are certainly important for refugees, but that is not the primary reason for them to travel to Europe; it is for the safety of their family.

The refugee crisis is a global problem that will require collaboration from all sectors including NGOs, national and international government, private businesses and companies, and local communities. The organizations we met in Rome, including Programma Integra, Caritas, Centro Astalli and the representatives of Italian Refugee Council, JRS and UNHCR understand that rather than focusing on expelling refugees, we must shift our focus toward inclusion and integration process and invest in infrastructures, such as education, water system, hospitals, etc., in their home country. When addressing refugee crisis, integration should not only be about providing basic needs. Integration should also take in consideration where refugees come from and the trauma they carry. Investing in integration process that includes language classes and social networking will provide an opportunity for refugees to understand the culture and increase their likelihood to assimilate wherever they choose to stay.