Barely 10 months ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the refugee population from Syria had reached the three million mark. Today, the latest data from the field show that the number has passed four million.
A horrific year of war, humanitarian crises, human rights violations and persecution has caused a sharp rise in global forced displacement.
For a while it went unnoticed: a boatload of migrants here, a vessel full of refugees there. But since 2012, the complex and unregulated movement of human beings through South and Southeast Asia– and the fate of those who put their lives in the hands of smugglers and at the mercy of the high seas – is becoming bleaker with each passing day.
On Thursday, May 14, a group of journalists rented a boat from Ko Lipe, a small island in Thailand’s southwest Satun Province, and headed out into the Andaman Sea – a water body in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca.
As conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere pushed the number of refugees to 13 million last year, the international community is struggling to shoulder the humanitarian responsibility of protecting those fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands.
Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.
Little Samir covers his face with his hands as he plays under the orange tree in the centre of the inner courtyard of the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR) centre in the southern city of Malaga. He is four years old and has spent nearly a year in Spain, where he arrived with his parents, fleeing the war in Syria.
The village of Valipunam, 322 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, occupies one of the remotest corners of the country’s former war zone. The dirt roads are impossible to navigate, there are no street lights, telephone connections are patchy and the nearest police post is miles away, closer to the centre of the battle-scarred Mullaitivu district.
The recent arrest and deportation from Malaysia of three Sri Lankan Tamils on U.N. refugee status, under suspicion of trying to revive the disbanded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has raised questions about regional security and minority politics.
When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chairs a U.N. pledging conference next week for urgently needed aid to Syria, he is expected to warn the donor community that the humanitarian crisis in the politically-troubled Arab nation is threatening to reach biblical proportions.
The terrible bloodshed in Syria has been going on for over two and a half years. It has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, with more than half of Syria’s pre-war population now needing humanitarian assistance for their survival.
Seventeen-year-old Usmanullah Shah has never been to Afghanistan, the land of his forefathers. The son of Afghan parents who fled to Pakistan 34 years ago to escape war, he shudders at the thought of going there.
When the first trains in almost two and a half decades started running through this war-ravaged town in Sri Lanka in mid-September, Sinngamuththu Jesudasan could not resist the temptation to go and have a look - repeatedly.
Ornela Mbenga Sebo, a young Congolese woman, escaped in 2011 from a rebel camp in an unidentified location in Africa where she was being held as a slave and stowed away in the garbage bay of a merchant ship, with no idea where it was headed.
Yves Norodom, a 21-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Brazil, is one of 45.2 million displaced people around the world – the largest number in 20 years.