The Plight of Displaced Humanity
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
The insecure and deplorable living conditions many displaced individuals have to endure on this planet are inhumane. About one-third of these 79.5 million people fleeing adversity reside in Africa. Favored places to relocate are usually across a border to a neighboring country.
The United Nations (UN) places marginalized individuals in different categories. “Refugees” are people compelled to flee their country due to conflict, violence, or persecution. “Migrants” are individuals who move from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions. “Asylum-seekers” leave their home country as political refugees to pursue safety in another country. “Internally displaced persons” are individuals who have moved to a region other than the one they call home within their own country. “Stateless persons” do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country. This is usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Finally, “returnees” are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in 2018 that:
· South Sudan has the largest refugee crisis in Africa – 2.3 million people have fled the country. Many of these refugees are children.
· Tensions and ongoing violence have resulted in the displacement of 815,000 people in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world.
· Somalia has been pushed to the brink of starvation due to lack of a unified central government and ongoing internal strife. Currently, 809,000 Somalians have fled their country. The Dadaab refugees camp in Kenya, where many Somalians journey to, is one of the world’s largest camps. It was built to house 90,000 people, but is now home to 200,000 refugees. Fifty percent of these refugees are under 18 years old.
· The Central African Republic has been vacated by 585,000 people. Rebels seized power in 2013 and violence still ensues.
· Burundi is one of the poorest countries of the world. After a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war, the country is still struggling to recover. Since 2015, the economy has declined significantly due to political instability. Refugees numbering 347,000 have fled the country
· Due to political, religious, and ethnic conflict and violence in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, 232,000 individuals are displaced in the country.
Life in a refugee camp is difficult. Upon arrival, refugees may receive basic personal items such as soap, a sleep mat, and a blanket before settling down in an allotted tent or small shed. Basic supplies like toothpaste and shoes are hard to come by. Food may be distributed daily, but there may not be enough to eat. Toilet and bathing facilities are meager. Women often bath at night, waiting in long lines, because there are no walls or enclosures surrounding bathing areas. Sleep is disrupted by shouting and children’s cries for food. Some camps are without a school, and there may be only one health center with very few doctors to care for 2,000 people.
COVID-19 has put refugees at an even greater risk. They have limited access to healthcare and underlying medical conditions. Some governments have closed borders to refugees and restricted access to asylum, therefore, offering fewer opportunities for resettlement.
Refugees spend an average of 17 years waiting for a permit to establish themselves in a new country. A refugee camp is supposed to provide immediate protection and assistance to people for a temporary duration. However, going back to one’s home country can be a suicide mission. People flee their homeland for a variety of reasons, including fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. Additionally, they may leave due to: war and attacks from armed groups; ethnic, tribal, and religious violence; extreme poverty; discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender orientation; or, natural disasters, including extreme drought. Life as a refugee is equivalent to a life in limbo.
Leaving one’s homeland is no new phenomena. For as long as there have been humans, there have been people forced from their homelands. In the ancient world, thousands of people fled east Europe after their lands were invaded by enemy tribes. In the 1600s, some 20,000 people made the perilous journey from England across the Atlantic Ocean, so they could practice their Protestant faith freely in the New World. And in the 1840s, about 2 million people left Ireland to avoid starvation because of famine. It was World War II, however, that brought a refugee crisis on a scale the world had never seen. When the war ended in 1945, much of Europe was a wasteland, with once shining cities like London and Berlin burned and bombed to ruins. At least 80 million people were dead. There were 40 million refugees in Europe alone. These men, women, and children had lost their homes, their livelihoods, their way of life. (Scholastic Scope, 2019)
Today, women comprise 50 percent of the migrant population and are overrepresented in higher risk groups such as those who have experienced violence or trafficking. (World Health Organization, 2020) Organized criminal networks profit an estimated $150 billion a year from the indentured labor of as many as 40 million victims worldwide. As for pregnant women, maintaining a healthy pregnancy is a growing challenge. These women “show higher rates of an adverse pregnancy outcome. They are at risk for insufficient vaccinations such as for rubella and varicella which can lead to profound and fatal outcome in offspring.” (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018)
Victims are sometimes unaware of their own victimhood. According to the Global Slavery Index, slavery is most prevalent in countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, with 10 countries estimated to account for nearly 60% of all victims. However, it is wrong to assume this is a far-away problem. Some estimates put the number of victims in the U.K., for example, at 100,000 or more. These victims, trafficked into wealthier countries from overseas, often find themselves deep in the supply chains on which modern economies and society rely – such as food production, manufacturing, and producing the clothes we wear.
“Criminal gangs use an array of psychological, financial and physical techniques to maintain tight control. Trafficking individuals across borders traps victims, as many face financial debts to the gangs or language barriers. Criminals also often employ an ever-present threat of physical violence against victims and their families to ensure compliance, which makes detecting and disrupting this type of crime extremely difficult. It is believed that nearly 90 percent of this type of crime goes undetected." (Pioneers of Change Summit, 2019)
Nearly one-half of refugees are children. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported there are nearly 50 million children who have been uprooted and are forced to flee due to brutal conflict and extreme poverty in this year alone. Some travel by themselves, and it is hard for them to receive a proper education. Many have experienced profound physical and emotional trauma. (Save the Children, 2020) “When children grow up in armed conflict, their deep mental scars are often overlooked,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said at a 2018 conference in Berlin. “Prolonged exposure to violence, fear and uncertainty can have a catastrophic impact on children’s learning, behavior and emotional and social development for many years.” All of this adds up to the sense of a “lost” childhood for those who have to grow up too quickly in order to survive.
World Refugee Day is June 20. The United Nations states that its purpose is “to educate the public on issues of concern, mobilize political will and resources to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.” It functions as a powerful advocacy tool. Many caring people have galvanized and formed organizations to help refugees. These groups include: UNHCR, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and World Vision.
The African country of Uganda is renowned for its welcoming, progressive refugee policies. The country encourages freedom of movement, and the right to employment, education, and health. The government also offers refugees plots of land to farm and construct shelters. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi recently asserted, “We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon.” Other countries across the pond such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Liberia, and Nauru appear to be in agreement with the High Commissioner and host a large number of refugees. We need more countries to follow suit and become more sensitive to the plight of the world’s most precocious commodity – humankind.