World refugee statistics
According to UNHCR data, there are more than 25 million refugees – and more than 48 million internally displaced people across the world now and the number is increasing every year. And 85 per cent of total refugees are hosted in the developing countries. Almost half of the refugees are children and more than one million were born as refugees in the last couple of years. Apart from this, according to United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), in 2021 there have been more 235.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the world.
Who is a refugee or displaced person?
The UN refugee agency UNHCR defines refugees as people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. The 1951 Refugee Convention is considered as a key legal document and it defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Ours is called an age of complacency. We have lost our sensitivity to human suffering. We now regard human beings as mere statistical units.
Refugee’s living condition
Hope and life expectancy are things that keep us alive and going in life. Refugees such as Rohingyas in Bangladesh are stuck in a limbo, knowing nothing about what is going to happen in their lives in the future. The international community and the UN are often pretty good at mobilising funds for providing humanitarian assistance to the affected people but not always doing enough or not having ability enough for resolving crises in the current divided political landscape of the world. Refugees often have very limited access to food, water, shelter, sanitation, education and medical care and so on. On top of that, evolving climate crisis is about to make them more vulnerable. Not to mention vulnerable women and children who become the worst victim in any humanitarian crisis.
It is often said that having a nationality is not a privilege but a human right. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh were not only forced to flee, their citizenship, nationality, ethnicity and basic human rights are also denied. They are people belonging to no state. UN called the largest stateless people in the world. Refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, etc. left homes and become refugees or displaced due to continuous war and violence in those countries.
Our loss of sensitivity and hope
Nowadays, trending issues are all about adversities such increasing displacement, climate change, hunger, post-COVID depression, declining mental health, disease outbreaks and so on. In recent years, climate change has turned into a global emergency. It is not only about climate, it has far-reaching ramifications on environment, displacement, hunger, human health and so on. Climate refugees from climate vulnerable countries like us are expected to be rising in the days ahead if solid actions are not taken immediately to reduce carbon emission. But environment friendly development approaches in countries like us seem a far cry yet.
The last couples of decades are regarded as economic golden age for developing countries like us. But our great economic optimism is going to disappoint us as we are challenged with more than one million refugees. On top of that, world economy is going through a post-COVID, historic economic depression which is worsening our unemployment crisis. Not to mention the looming climate disaster that is hunting us. After all, in the language of Clive Hamilton, an Australian public intellectual and philosopher – “We continue to plan for the future as if climate scientists don’t exist. The greatest shame is the absence of sense of tragedy”.
Ours is called an age of complacency. We have lost our sensitivity to human suffering. We now regard human beings as mere statistical units. Besides, refugees have been unwanted to all countries; fear of refugees even in developed countries is soaring. They are increasingly being stigmatized and have often been subject to racist xenophobic behavior. We often forget that nobody deserves to be a refugee and none chooses to be so as well. It is our collective global leadership failure that millions of people across the world are homeless and living as refugees – often without the basic human rights - in places vulnerable to climate adversities.
We have been bombarded with huge compelling narratives about refugee crises, climate change and its impending adversities for years. But our leaders have at times ignored and downplayed the climate warnings.
To conclude, let’s remember the case of Aylan Kurdi - the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who was found dead lying his face down on a sandy beach in Turkey - while attempting to flee war in Syria and to reach Greece in 2015 - seemed to have shaken our senses and woken up the world leaders at that time. Maybe again, it is time for solidarity, time for waking up and time for coming back to our senses before it is getting too late. UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has ended last month.
We have been bombarded with huge compelling narratives about refugee crises, climate change and its impending adversities for years. But our leaders have at times ignored and downplayed the climate warnings. Perhaps, there is no time left for the world leaders but to deliver on their narratives and to resolve refugee crises – and time to sincerely mobilize resources to incorporate climate change in all our decisions.
* Parvez Uddin Chowdhury is a humanitarian worker and independent researcher. He can be reached at [email protected]