Where Are They Going?

Kavya Singh

“The last thing I remember of Syria before we left, was when my mother was taking me from our place to our grandparents. The roads were full of dead people. {…} I left my kitten, my friend, my school. I miss my home a lot. I hope one day we’ll be back, and things will be just like before”, shares Alia, a seven-year-old girl, originally from the city of Aleppo in Syria, through an Italian NGO correspondent. Many like Alia, had to flee from their homes when the Battle of Aleppo began in 2012 as a military confrontation between the government of President Bashar al-Assad against the rebels’ coalition which included hard-line Islamist forces. As time went on, the devastation it brought onto civilians and the city itself, led the battle to be named “Syria’s Stalingrad”- resonating with the World War II confrontation of the Axis powers with the Soviet Union for the control of the city of Stalingrad. The conflict came to be known as the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare to date, killing 1.8-2 million people.

Voices like these can be heard from all across the world, 3.5 million alone coming all the way from Turkey as the Syrian Civil War deteriorates. As in 2017, somewhere in Afghanistan, 2.3 million people were on the move in the wake of the “war on terrorism”, which began over 18 years ago in 2001. With South Sudan’s civil war consuming itself, 2 million people have been turned into refugees and in total, 6 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The dangerous perils of being a Rohingya in Myanmar has led to 1.2 million walking across the banks of Bangladesh. Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Eritrea, and Burundi along with the above-mentioned countries form the major source of refugees. Facing dire consequences of violence, ethnic divides, and human rights violations have led to the highest global refugee population ever, reaching an outstanding 25.4 Million (over half of whom are under the age of 18 (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2017)). Accounting to that, 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced, and 44,400 people are being forced to flee their homes every day. Notably, Lebanon received the largest number of refugees, where 1 in every 6 people was a refugee under the responsibility of the UNHCR. Palestine refugees have come to bear the brunt of it- being 1 in 4 refugees for Lebanon and 1 in 3 for Jordan.

If the sheer number is not enough to attract one’s attention to the massive refugee crisis that the Trump administration so enthusiastically believes does not exist and the Europeans ignore, the implications of such an emergency should. As top refugee-hosting countries- Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Uganda, and Turkey- form the frontier absorbing them, issues within the nations’ communities have led to further cracks in an already stressed environment. A logic of “us vs others” fosters rhetoric through which refugees are often cast aside as “strangers at our doors”. They often get caught in the vicious political cycle as this sentiment carries on. Recently, many countries have started to adopt “push back” policies, that is, not allowing refugees to cross borders in the first place. Increasingly, asylum seekers are being denied entry to developed states and violations of non-refoulment (return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they might face persecution based on race, religion, nationality or membership to a particular group) occur on a daily basis. With worsening conditions and lesser “doors”, the refugees are taking incredible risks to run away from harm, dangling their own lives in front of death by overcrowding on boats and taking illegal pathways. They are often termed as “creators of a crisis”, bringing only increasing crime rates and lower living standard with them. However, in reality, they are the victims of the unthinkable.

Lack of resources has not helped either- as the UN fails to provide re-establishment and agreement on refugee deals due to the ascending wave of nationalism and isolationism that grips the globe, the responsibility has come to rest on NGOs and UN’s semi-independent agencies. Need for safe access to territories, legal mobility pathways, resettlement slots, local integration, and protection are greater than ever today.

As we witness a severe crisis, it becomes our responsibility to open our doors and welcome the ones who suffer largely on behalf of the cruel intentions of some. The solution may not lie in the narrow auspices of the UN Security Council but the general bias towards the term “refugees”- which is often contested and has never been correctly defined. One might ask then, “who are the refugees?” since the formal terminology (used by the UN) does not account for the internally displaced people nor environmental refugees (in 2017, 24 million people were displaced by climate change, a number only to rise as water scarcity, famine, and weather disasters frequent more). But eventually, it becomes the responsibility of the states and its leaders to rise up in order to protect the people. Because at the end of the day, “who are the refugees?” they are merely people who’s human life carries worth internationally.