MENA’s displaced on World Refugee Day

War-stricken Syria remains the top country of origin for refugees abroad.
Sunday 23/06/2019
A Syrian refugee child looks from the entrance of his family's tent in a camp in the town of el-Marj, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, June 13. (DPA)
A Syrian refugee child looks from the entrance of his family's tent in a camp in the town of el-Marj, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, June 13. (DPA)

On June 20, humanity marked World Refugee Day.

On the occasion, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi talked of a “crisis of solidarity.”

He was referring to the paradox of developing countries, especially those of the Middle East and North Africa, assuming most of the burden of the world refugees. Grandi said he regretted political exploitation of the issue and hoped that Europe’s political class, in particular, would come to a more sober assessment of the matter.

“So, the appeal I make, now that we are in a situation where European [Parliament] elections are behind us, is to stop this electoral agitation. The numbers arriving in Europe are frankly manageable,” he said.

A good case in point is that of Syrian refugees. With 6.7 million refugees recorded in host countries at the end of 2018, compared to 6.3 million in 2017, war-stricken Syria remains the top country of origin for refugees abroad. More than 6 million Syrians are also internally displaced.

Even though Syrian refugees are hosted by 127 countries, 85% of them are in Middle East countries.

Turkey hosts 3.7 million refugees, the largest refugee population in the MENA region.

Lebanon, with nearly 1 million Syrian refugees, hosts the largest number of refugees per national population. In 2018, the ratio of refugees there compared to nationals was 1-in-6. This situation is sparking political and social friction in Lebanon. In Jordan, where about 670,000 Syrian refugees live, the ratio is 1-to-14.

Other less recognised host countries of Syrian refugees in the region include Iraq with 252,000 and Egypt with 133,000.

With Germany an exception with nearly 600,000 registered refugees, the number of refugees hosted by European countries is relatively small. It includes France with 21,000 refugees, Belgium with 23,000 and Denmark with 21,000. Even Hungary where the populist government uses the issue of migration to highlight the threat of a “non-Christian invasion,” the number of refugees is no more than 78,000.

Caroline Kende-Robb, secretary-general of CARE International said “this situation is inherently unsustainable.”

“We have a small number of poorer countries that have been left to do far too much just because they are neighbours to a crisis. This unequal share is exacerbating the global refugee problem, as inadequate conditions in host countries are pushing many to embark on dangerous journeys while women, girls and other vulnerable people are put at risk to abuse and exploitation,” she explained.

Germany’s hospitable attitude fuelled xenophobic campaigns from far-right groups, which claim that the federal government has been neglectful of the needy and the unemployed at home, especially in the former East Germany, while spending billions of dollars on refugees since 2015.

Much like other European far-right groups, the German far right has tried to depict the majority Muslim refugees as a cultural and demographic threat.

The assassination June 2 of a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right party, in the central German city of Kassel, allegedly at the hands of a far-right extremist, has come as a warning against the possible repercussions of politically motivated incitement against refugees.

The United Nations’ refugee agency’s “Global Trends” report puts the number of refugees and the rest of displaced people at 70.8 million. Among these, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, 25.9 million refugees and 3.5 million asylum seekers not yet granted official refugee status.

Half of the world’s forcibly displaced are children. Their total number for 2018 was the highest in about seven decades.

One worrisome aspect of the refugee problem is its tendency to remain unresolved. More than 8 years after the start of the Syrian war, the much talked-about massive return home of Syrian refugees and displaced people seems unlikely to materialise soon.

The United States said about four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years.

Besides Syria’s 13 million “forcibly displaced people,” 5.5 million Palestinian refugees are scattered across the region and the world, notably in Lebanon and Jordan. Decades later, they are still looking for adequate international financial support with an expected $211 million shortfall in funding for 2019 since the suspension of US support.

Addressing the various aspects related to the refugee problem requires real global solidarity in alleviating the economic burden of the problem for countries of the region and helping resolve situations of war and conflict at the core of forced displacement, whether it is within or outside any country’s borders.