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World Refugee Day gives pause to consider dire global problem

23 June 20150 comments

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out on city streets around the globe in support of refugees and asylum seekers on World Refugee Day this week as world leaders pledged more action to keep displaced people safe.

In a statement US Secretary of State John Kerry talked of “a duty to the millions stranded away from home, not just to preserve life, but to safeguard hope” while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres urged the global community to end the conflicts that have produced the worst refugee crisis since the end of WWII.

“World Refugee Day, marked on June 20, is a time to honor those who flee violence and persecution and those who help them on their journey,” Secretary Kerry said.

“It’s almost unfathomable that nearly 60 million men, women and children are now displaced inside and outside of their countries.

“We’ve seen haunting images of Syrian families fleeing indiscriminate barrel bombings and young children rescued at sea after days without food. Escaping from bullets, bombs, or machetes is often just the beginning of the ordeal. Refugees remain in exile for an average of 17 years. Some are born and grow up in camps and never get to leave them.

“For those scattered by violence and oppression, the United States is and will remain their most fervent defender. We have a duty to the millions stranded away from home, not just to preserve life, but to safeguard hope,” Mr Kerry said.

High Commissioner Guterres said: “Fifteen years into a millennium that many of us hoped would see an end to war, a spreading global violence has come to threaten the very foundations of our international system”.

“We have reached a moment of truth. World stability is falling apart leaving a wake of displacement on an unprecedented scale. Global powers have become either passive observers or distant players in the conflicts driving so many innocent civilians from their homes.

“In this world at war, where power relations are unclear, and unpredictability and impunity have become the name of the game, it is now urgent for all those with leverage over the parties to these conflicts to put aside their differences and come together to create the conditions for ending the bloodshed,” Mr Guterres said.

He said the world must either shoulder collectively the burden of helping the victims of war, or risk standing by as less wealthy countries and communities – which host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees – become overwhelmed and unstable.

He said the long standing principle of protecting refugees was under siege.

“Yet today, some of the wealthiest among us are challenging this ancient principle, casting refugees as gate crashers, job seekers or terrorists. This is a dangerous course of action, short-sighted, morally wrong, and – in some cases – in breach of the refugee convention.

“The world needs to renew its commitment now to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its principles that made us strong. To offer safe harbor, both in our own countries and in the epicentres of the crises, and to help refugees restore their lives. We must not fail,” Mr Guterres said.

Thousands of Melbournians turned out to mark World Refugee Day on Saturday with a call for Australia to rethink mandatory detention and other asylum seeker policies.

In Berlin on Saturday 10,000 participated in a protest fronted by a banner saying: ‘No frontiers, no nations, stop deportation!’

In Paris, police said 8,500 protesters rallied behind banners. Elsewhere in France, hundreds gathered in the southern city of Marseille and in Calais, the northern port city used as a springboard by migrants seeking to reach Britain.

In the southeast, activists gathered in Menton near the Italian border, in solidarity with hundreds of migrants stuck in Italy after France refused to accept them.

In Rome too, scores of protesters braved the rain and gathered under the slogan ‘Stop the massacre now’ to express solidarity with migrants risking their lives to sail across the Mediterranean Europe on rickety, overcrowded boats.

To coincide with World Refugee Day, the UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR has published its annual analysis of global forced displacement, revealing shocking numbers of people who have been forced to flee their homes.

The ten most telling facts are:

  1. In 2014, global displacement reached historic levels: 59.5 million people were forced to flee their homes: roughly the same number of people in Britain. If these people made up their own country, it would be the 24th largest nation in the world.
  2. In 2014 alone, 8.3 million people were forced to flee: the highest annual increase on record.
  3. That means that 42,500 people were forced to leave their homes every day because of conflict or persecution.
  4. Of these people, 19.5 million are refugees, 1.8 million are asylum seekers and 38.2 million were internally displaced within their own country.
  5. 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.
  6. Australia is home to just 0.4 per cent of the world’s refugees.
  7. More than half (53 per cent) of the world’s refugees are from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The largest source of the world’s refugees is Syria. One in five displaced persons is from Syria.
  8. The top 5 host countries for refugees are: Turkey; Pakistan; Lebanon; Iran and Ethiopia.
  9. More than half of the world’s refugees are children (51 per cent): the highest figure in over a decade.
  10. In 2014, 34,300 asylum claims were made by unaccompanied children: the highest number since records began. Most of the children were Afghan, Eritrean, Syrian or Somali.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist