OPINION: The world can do better in sharing the burden of refugees

by Siddharth Chatterjee | @sidchat1 | United Nations
Thursday, 20 June 2019 13:15 GMT

Somali refugee Fatuma Yussuf Diriye is seen during an interview with Reuters in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, August 13, 2018. Picture taken August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The world must take collective responsibility for the horrors of rampant conflict, violence and human rights abuses that continue to force people to flee

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20th to celebrate the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees, a glaring concern remains just how inadequate the global response to the refugee crisis has been.

To a large extent, refugees have been painted with the broad strokes of a burden to host economies or sources of insecurity and crime. The world has lacked the resolve and skills needed to negotiate peace settlements, end the refugee crisis through dialogue and diplomacy and support countries that continue to host refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world is facing the highest levels of displacement ever in history, with over 65 million people forced from their homes by war, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies. People are forcibly displaced at a rate of 34,000 per day due to conflict or persecution.

The world’s poorer countries are bearing the brunt. Currently, about eight out of ten refugees are hosted by developing countries, mostly in Africa, adding to existing challenges such as access to food, water, shelter and health care to both refugees and host communities.

Extensive media coverage of the surge in refugees landing in Europe has tended to divert attention from the challenges that a few African countries are grappling with as they carry the burden of displacement.  Such host countries largely depend on humanitarian support to provide social amenities to the incoming populations, even though they are usually unable to provide the same to their own citizens.  This is often a cause of conflict between the refugees and host communities.

Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, each hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, are among the countries in Africa that continue to extend their hospitality and bear the social and economic burden. The response to their appeal for more support has at best been a token contribution.

The world must take collective responsibility for the horrors of rampant conflict, violence and human rights abuses that continue to force people to flee within or outside their countries. Currently, about two-thirds of all the refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Even with the large part of the global crisis emanating from only those few hotspots, humanitarian support remains chronically underfunded. Developing countries, especially Africa where refugee assistance is purely dependent on humanitarian aid, deserve better support.  

As the world observes World Refugee Day this year, UNHCR has received contributions of only $306 million for its programmes in Africa, which represents a paltry 11 percent of its requirements.

With a keener sense of purpose and will, the world can take better care of refugees, a segment of society that represents humanity at its most vulnerable.

It is the only way to prove that the oft-repeated declaration about all humans being born equal is more than just parody.