Someone is displaced every three seconds around the world, forced out from their homes by violence, war and persecution. By end 2015, more than 65.3 million people had to seek refuge in other countries or were displaced in their own country — a figure higher than even during the Second World War.
On an average, 32,200 individuals were forced to flee their homes each day at the end of 2013 — half of them children mostly travelling alone. On the other hand, the cost of supporting refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) increased by 267% since 2008 to $128 billion in 2014 and continues to increase at an unaffordable rate.
A Save the Children report says that if the world’s displaced people formed a country, it would be the 21st most populous one globally ranking between Thailand and the UK with the fastest-growing population and one of the youngest, with half of the refugees under 18 years of age.
But it would be among the worst nations for access to education, seeing children killed by preventable illnesses, including pneumonia and malaria, and alarming rates of child marriage.
While Europe and America are making a big issue of the influx of refugees in their countries as if all the refugees of the world are landing on their shores, over 80% of refugees lives in low and middle-income countries like Turkey, Jordon and Bangladesh.
Power, Resources & Refugees
Thirst for political power of leaders of Third World countries coupled with greed of the First World for cheap access to natural resources is causing conflicts and wars around the world. This has a direct bearing on the record increase in the number of refugees.
However, it is important to note that none of the refugees is responsible for any of these conflicts and wars for which they are being made to pay a heavy price that includes forced displacement, loss of shelter, separation from families, torture, rape, forced labour and in many cases getting killed.
Who’s a Refugee
The United Nations defines refugees as individuals who are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or nationality because of persecution or well-founded fear of persecution in large part based on race, religion, nationality and membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
It is important to note that people who are migrating to other countries only for economic gains are not and cannot be treated as refugees. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) has evolved very strict procedures to determine if a person is indeed a refugee.
Refugees as Terrorists…
There are misconceptions that refugees are terror threats and a burden on the host country. Most countries are taking this as an excuse to close their doors to refugees and making lives of those who have already entered miserable. But it is far from the truth that refugees are a terror threat.
Since September 11, 2001, the United States has resettled 784,000 refugees and in the following 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities. It is worth noting that two were not planning an attack in the United States – their host country.
According to an analyst, the only link between refugees and terrorism is that refugees are fleeing terrorism, and not coming to host countries to perpetrate terrorism.
…And Burden on Economy
On the economic front, if refugees as a country could gain employment equaling their skills, it is estimated that they would become the 54th largest economy in the world.
From Albert Einstein to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, to Babar who founded the Moghul dynasty and the Parsees in India were all refugees and illustrate that refugees often give back much more to the host countries than they take from them.
Turning them into Assets
Given the growing conflicts around the world, the refugee phenomenon is here to stay. Instead of being condemned to miserable lives and paying a heavy price for the greed of others, refugees could become assets to the economy of the world and the host country if they could be integrated, provided employment and opportunities to rebuild their lives.
However, if they are perceived only as an emergency phenomenon, condemned to ghettos, prevented from productive work and treated as terrorists, they could become a drag on the economy and become vulnerable to criminality for sheer survival.
(The author is Executive Director of Cova that is a partner of UNHCR)