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Saturday, January 21, 2017
- “I know exactly what it means to lose your home, to lose your belongings,” said Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division at the UN’s Department of Public Information (DPI), during his opening remarks at a briefing on the refugee crisis.
Nasser, who moderated a panel of six experts, shared his personal experiences of being a child of refugees.
The briefing, organized by DPI’s non-governmental organization (NGO) relations section, explored ways to rethink and strengthen the response to the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“The feeling of longing, perhaps more than the physical loss of belongings and what you own—it’s the ever present feeling of loss, of longing to the homeland, to the house in which you were born, that you grew up in,” Nasser said in his address.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 20 million refugees and an additional 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) globally, a total equivalent to the population of the world’s 24th biggest country. This means that one in every 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.
Of refugees, 51 percent are under the age of 18.
However, it isn’t the numbers that are provoking a crisis, Director of UNHCR’s New York Liaison Office Ninette Kelley told IPS. “It’s the absence of a managed response to them,” she stated.
Among options discussed to bolster refugee response, panelists highlighted the need for equitable ways to share responsibility.
“Countries need to work together to protect the large numbers of people who are on the move, or the responsibility falls unfairly on a small number of states who cannot cope any longer,” said Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and panelist.
The majority of refugee-hosting nations are low to middle income countries, including Turkey, which hosts almost 2 million refugees, and Pakistan, which hosts 1.5 million. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees now make up 25 percent of the country’s population.
This has proved to be a challenge for many nations, overstretching their capacity and resources to effectively manage the crisis.
Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the UN’s Humanitarian Section Predrag Avramović illustrated the issue within Europe’s Schengen system.
Under the system, which allows residents to move freely between 26 European countries, asylum seekers must apply to the first European country they enter. This places the burden on a few countries, such as Greece which sees more than 2,000 refugees arrive at its shores each day.
In an effort to address this inequitable and crushing burden, the EU agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy across the region. So far, 272, or just 0.17 percent, of such asylum seekers have been relocated.
The resettlement proposal also only accounts for small proportion of asylum seekers. In 2014 alone, at least 1.66 million people submitted applications for asylum, the highest level ever recorded. Europe received the majority of these applications but has struggled to process requests in a timely manner.
This has led to countries’ stringent regulations on asylum applications. For example, Austria, which is part of the main route for Northern Europe-bound refugees, announced a daily quota of 80 asylum applications per day, a measure that will be implemented this week.
At the briefing, Avramović emphasized the need for a more coherent and enforceable asylum and migration policies in Europe that meets legal and moral obligations.
Panelists also stressed the need for increased funds and more effective financing. This includes linking humanitarian and development assistance.
“It used to be that you had a humanitarian emergency, humanitarian agencies came in and development was something that came much later when the conflict had subsided or refugees returned home,” Kelley told IPS.
However, due to the changing nature of conflicts and crises, refugees now spend an average of 17 years in exile.
Refugee response must therefore include a resilience component, providing livelihood and education opportunities, panelists stated.
Education is not only a “key right,” but a “key prerequisite for development,” Nasser noted.
Though the Syrian conflict continues to dominate headlines, such responses must also go beyond Syrian refugees.
Kelley stated that UNHCR had a significant funding deficit for three of their biggest emergencies including the crises in Central African Republic, which received 26 percent of funds, and Burundi, which received 38 percent. Such issues need to be elevated more in the public’s attention, Kelley said.
“The only way that we can move forward is to have a much more predictable, supported system where states do share this global responsibility and both our humanitarian and development actions are lined up,” she concluded.
The World Humanitarian Summit, which will be held in Turkey in May, aims to set a new agenda for global humanitarian action, focusing on humanitarian effectiveness and serving the needs of people in conflict.