How Everyone Has Failed Refugees


According to a 2017 report by UNHCR, there are over 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  In 2016, only 189 000 were formally resettled in another state. Why has no one been able to adequately address this issue and manage refugee crises as they unfold?

Probably one of the reasons for this is the way in which states perceive refugees and their crises. Everyone thinks of them as temporary, something short-term. Politicians talk about putting temporary measures in place to deal with a mass-influx of people, assuming that they will then leave and return back to their home countries in due time. However, the reality is that refugees have always been a trouble to solve. They have been around for as long as history itself and the types of problems that create them are almost certainly going to continue to arise. Additionally, more often than not refugees do not or cannot return home. Wars do not end as quickly as nations expect and when they do – there is almost always huge destruction in their wake. No one expects citizens to return to a country that has no ability to function.

By perceiving refugees as non-permanent, solutions that are reached and put in place are also short-term. Everyone needs to change the discussion and think long-term, in doing so there develops an ability to plan for and deal with crises as or even before they arise. If international law had a legislation that was proactive rather than reactive, there would be a lot less pressure on states when hundreds of thousands of people come rushing to cross the border. There is also, as it stands, no requirement for nations to take in a certain number of displaced people per year. Men and women are seeing the consequences of this in Turkey and Kenya where the countries close to conflict zones are flooded with individuals and the systems in place are overrun.

Furthermore, talks about refugees are often framed negatively. They are seen as a problem that will cause great expense to the states. Some people are inherently nervous about ‘others’ and seem to feel threatened by the idea of accepting displaced people into their own country. This fear then places pressure on the government to present refugees as something temporary, not wanting to accept as many of them as they actually could. As such, nations have not put in place permanent solutions or measures to deal with recent influxes of refugees.

The conversation around displaced people needs to change. Everyone needs to acknowledge that this is an issue that will be around for the foreseeable future. Governments need to assist in changing this discussion by possibly presenting the benefits of accepting refugees into our societies. By shifting the conversation, humans may be in a better position to deal with crises as they arise.

Riley Cahill

Riley has just graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of International and Global Studies. She is currently completing a Masters of International Relations and International Law at UNSW.

About Riley Cahill

Riley has just graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of International and Global Studies. She is currently completing a Masters of International Relations and International Law at UNSW.