The Refugee and Migrant Conundrum Is moral numbness setting in?

The Refugee and Migrant Conundrum
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In CLIMATE INACTION … GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY, we wrote about the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) Report which the UN declared as a ”code red for humanity” and the urgent need to be carbon positive by this decade.  We cited the recent IEP (Institute for Economic & Peace) prediction that at least 1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate-related events by 2050. This terrifying number goes way beyond the staggering 1990 IPCC estimate of 200 million climate migrants by 2050, a call to action then that fell on deaf ears since little was done to mitigate carbon emissions in the last 30 years.

Today, these refugees are called the “forgotten victims of climate change” until they can be classified in the UNHCR statute to protect them. This is happening at a time of marked reluctance to open doors to more refugee victims of war and political turmoil, when many countries are grappling with what to do with Afghans who assisted them over the past 20 years and many more that want a better life.

Refugees struggle, have endured so much, and still do. They are different, the outsider, the misunderstood who try hard to fit in but often the one who doesn’t fit in. They are in a foreign country where many are made to feel less, the one who barely spoke the local language and was made fun of for their accent, their skin color, the thing on their head. They have been traumatized, and meet resistance in almost every corner of their lives.  

Credit: Mitchel Lensink

Many countries have genuine concerns about refugees and migrants, about who these people are and the risk of bringing them within their borders, but most refugees are not looking for trouble or want to cause violence, and many are fleeing exactly that from their war-torn homes. Unfortunately for many in need, the political climate worldwide is cautious, hesitant or less than hospitable to their plight.  

At least 400,000 Afghans have been forced from their homes in 2021 by fighting and are displaced within their own country, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Some countries offered refuge, but others closed their borders or had no plans announced.

– Of the countries bordering Afghanistan, Iran sets up emergency tents, but urges repatriation if and when safe, Tajikistan is preparing to accept up to 100,000 refugees, Pakistan is sealing its borders having resettled an estimated  three million Afghan refugees, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan closed its borders, and China closed its borders decades ago to refugees, especially Muslims.

Credit: Markus Spiske

– Offering refuge, USA will resettle up to 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year. UK will accept 5,000 in 2021 and resettle a total of  20,000 over several years. Canada will resettle 20,000, prioritising minorities including LGBTQ Afghans. Mexico accepted a group of 124 Afghan media workers and their families last week. Australia has pledged to take in 3,000 Afghan refugees.

– At US request, the following countries agreed to temporarily host Afghans seeking visas to enter the US: North Macedonia (450), Albania (300), Qatar (6000), Uganda (2,000) Kosovo also agreed, but with no number committed. 

– Hesitant or refusing refuge to migrants and refugees are the EU member states, Turkey and Russia. With elections looming in Germany and France, politicians are determined to avoid the populist backlash that followed the 2015 refugee crisis. Most EU governments have expressed willingness to accept Afghans who worked alongside American forces or international aid groups but they are wary of committing to the many hundreds of thousands more who are  seeking to leave to avoid life under the Taliban. Germany indicated that some will be accepted with no number committed. Austria refuses refugees and favours deportation centres. Switzerland refuses to accept large groups and will review on a case by case basis. The President of France said Europe must protect itself from a wave of Afghan migrants. European Union member states have now floated a plan to spend 300 million euros ($355 million) to resettle about 30,000 refugees inside the bloc. 

– Turkey steps up border wall construction since there are already 182, 000 registered Afghan migrants and 120,000 unregistered according to Reuters. 

– Russia refuses and does not want militants entering the country disguised as refugees.

– Australia says ‘no plans’.  

Credit: Atlas Green

According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are over 79.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world with more than half under the age of 18. Afghans represent the second largest refugee population in the world after Syrians, with a staggering 2.6 million registered refugees out of a global total of 26.4 million as of the end of 2020.

There is a growing hostility towards refugees and migrants perceived as threatening to one’s way of life, job availability and pay, to safety with the increase in crimes and the creation of ghettos, and to the potential rise of racist and right-wing views. Many host nations are already failing to provide homes, jobs, medical care and basic necessities for their own people, and there is an altruistic threat that these host nations will also fail to provide needed support for refugees and migrants.

In a world with a huge crisis of trust and an ongoing covid pandemic that has devastated many countries, we cannot allow a kind of moral numbness to set in when it comes to humanitarian emergencies, especially since more than half are children.  Surely, we can exercise our muscles for compassion and empathy, unlock the best features of our humanity and rethink decisions made outside the reach of decency to help suffering human beings.

Credit: Ra Dragon

What can we do to help as individuals? 

The Centre for High Impact Philanthropy recommends four things we can do to support refugees: 

1. Support the majority of refugees where they are with critical humanitarian aid. There are a number of organizations providing critical relief on the ground, such as: Médecins Sans Frontières, Mercy Corps, Oxfam International, Save the Children, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR),  and World Food Programme.

2. Support a flexible fund to respond to the situation as it evolves. The Global Refugee Crisis Fund benefits from the expertise of both disaster relief and area experts.

3. Help shift local laws and provide legal counsel: Governments historically bar refugees from working, starting businesses, and supporting themselves. Therefore, the amount of humanitarian aid needed is greater because countries taking in refugees often do little to help refugees rebuild their lives. Support organisations working to change laws and broaden opportunities to increase self-sufficiency and longer-term stability for refugees.

4. Support refugees who have gained entrance to your country. Refugees who have been admitted have already gone through an extensive vetting process which includes in-person interviews, fingerprinting, health screenings and background checks by various security agencies, a process that can take a few years.

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