The World Refugee Crisis: The West Fails to Take Accountability

Today’s refugee crisis is the worst the world has ever seen. Nearly twice as many individuals are displaced as opposed to 20 years ago.  The largest refugee populations stem from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. As of 2016, 51% of all global refugees were children. However, current refugee crises are not limited only to Gulf and African countries, but span across the globe–from Ukraine to Venezuela to Myanmar. Ironically, finding refuge has become significantly difficult in the past few years. 10 million stateless people have not only been denied a nationality, but basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and the freedom of movement.

ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES Migrants and refugees walk after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia, near the village of Miratovac, on Jan. 27, 2016.

As the refugee crisis continues to worsen, neighboring countries have become increasingly hostile to asylum seekers. Syrians once had the liberty of visiting Lebanon and Turkey without visas, but both countries have recently set up bureaucratic visa procedures designed to deter refugees. Political instability plagues neighboring countries, such as the 2013 coup in Egypt and the failed 2016 coup of Turkey’s Erdogan, radically changing the situation for Syrian refugees. Many are forced to again flee for their safety, despite the trip from Istanbul to Eastern Europe costing nearly $1900 USD. In March 2015, Turkey announced the closure of its two remaining border gates with Syria. Since then, border patrol guards near indiscriminately shoot at Syrian asylum seekers attempting to enter Turkey.

Australia has led the way in the Western world’s harsh exclusionary rhetoric. By implementing a deterrence-driven model of offshore mandatory undefined detention, Australia prevents asylum seekers from settling in the country, even if found to be “genuine refugees.”  Other laws make family reunion near impossible. Despite being condemned by the UNHCR and other human rights groups, this model has been highlighted by numerous policymakers in Europe as a possible model for governing migration within the continent.

David Ryder/Reuters

European countries, such as Hungary and Greece, have also imposed restrictions. In 2015, Hungary erected a 109-mile fence along its Serbian border; accordingly, the number of illegal entries into Hungary has declined significantly. Shortly after, in September 2015, a video of a Hungarian camerawoman kicking a child at a refugee camp in Roszke went viral, depicting the stigma perpetuated by many Hungarian and European citizens alike. Amnesty International also reported on European governments’ involvement in the torture and exploitation of displaced persons.

America, too, fails to pull its weight. Multiple iterations of Trump’s “Muslim ban” have made the already-difficult visa process nearly impossible, its third incarnation is still in effect, with the Supreme Court ruling to keep it in place. Many applicants are also left in limbo, due to bureaucratic tweaks and hiccups within the Department of Homeland security, and often must re-apply, only to start the entire process over again.

A mere 12% of Syrian refugees and only 7% of all Afghan refugees reside in the West. None of South Sudan’s refugees have applied for asylum in the West.

By not measuring up to its share of humanitarian aid, the West has forced countries adjoining refugee crises to suffer. In Jordan, nearly half of the population once consisted of Palestinian refugees, and is now home to many Syrian refugees. A recent study finds unemployment has almost doubled since 2011 in Jordan, particularly in areas with high concentrations of refugees. Brazil is facing a similar crisis as thousands of Venezuelan refugees arrive each month.

America is on track to admit the fewest refugees in four decades. In the fiscal year of 2018–the first year entirely governed by the Trump administration— an estimated 20,800 refugees will be admitted. This is a 61% reduction from last year, the lowest it’s been since 1980. The Trump administration has condemned the use of chemical attacks employed by the Assad regime, with attacks in Douma and Idlib sparking international outrage and claiming over 170 lives. Yet, the US fails to take initiative when it comes to refugee intake; it has only admitted 46 Syrian refugees in 2018 (as of early October), whereas 2017 saw 6,577 Syrian refugees admitted. Admissions from Iraq, Somalia, and Iran have similarly experienced harsh declines. Much like the red-scare, Islamophobia is at an all-time high in the country. Such rhetoric has been put into action: Muslim refugee admittance has fallen by 24%, despite Muslim refugees making up 41% of refugee admittance from 2003 to 2017. As of 2018 they constitute only 17%.

This rhetoric has also come to affect non-Muslim minorities, such as the Iranian Baha’is and the Iraqi Yazidis, who have both faced stark declines of 98%. The admission of Christian refugees, once equivalent to Muslim admittance, is now up by 17% (at 58%).  A recent study by the Cato Institute found that the rate of vetting failure (when an individual with terrorist sympathies is admitted into the US and goes on to commit an attack) is relatively small: one in twenty-nine million. The study went on to find that the chance of an American dying at the hands of an improperly admitted terrorist was one in 329 million. More people die from heat waves: 1 in 10,785.

Despite facing tight travel restrictions across the world, refugees who can escape their country face a continuously harrowing journey. The 2016 EU-Turkey deal closed the shortest and safest sea voyage to Europe between Turkey and Greece. Migrants’ are left with the option of the central crossing between Libya and Italy–a longer and more perilous route. Over 11,200 refugees died in mid-sea Mediterranean disasters from January 2015 to June 2017. The first three months of 2018 have seen over five hundred migrant lives lost to the Mediterranean Sea; this issue has failed to be covered by media, as it has in the previous years.

When it comes to refugee rights, countries which house significant numbers of refugees, like Jordan and Lebanon, do not adhere to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Turkey only does so in amended form, which solely recognizes European refugees. The 1951 convention has been adopted by 142 countries and provides refugees with access to courts, elementary education, identification and travel documents, assistance in assimilation and naturalization, and ensures equal treatment when it comes to public relief, social security, and labor legislation. More importantly, it protects refugees from refoulement—forced repatriation (sending back to one’s home country). Here we come upon a conundrum: the countries that do accept refugees, and thereby house the largest number of refugees, lack adherence to the convention; whereas those that do follow the convention often block refugees from entrance. Thus, refugees are forced into harsh circumstances and often face violations of their rights, as seen in Libya.

A migrant stands in a packed room at the Tariq al-Matar detention centre on the outskirts of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Photograph: Taha Jawashi/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees from north, central, and western Africa, such as Niger, Somalia, Lake Chad, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt (some of the countries prevalent in Female Genital Mutilation) often end up in Libya on their way to Europe. Libya has been under fire for horrific human rights violations when it comes to refugees and their detention centers. As per a 2017 UNHCR briefing, Libyan authorities estimated that nearly 20,500 refugees were held hostage by smugglers in the coastal city of Sabratha, Libya. Those who were successfully rescued needed urgent medical attention. Hundreds told UNHCR staff that they had not eaten for days. A troublesome amount were unaccompanied and separated children, many less than six years of age, having reported losing parents on the way to Libya or in recent chaos.

    Crises in South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria account for  55% of all refugees. South Sudan faces the globe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis–numbers of externally displaced individuals doubled between 2015 to 2016. Over four million people have been displaced due to the ongoing civil war. Seven million have been left malnourished and exposed to disease, particularly cholera.  Second only to Syria, Afghanistan’s refugee crisis has slowly begun to decline. In 2016, the number of Afghan refugees–Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims alike–fell from 2.7 million to 2.5 million, after Pakistan sent hundreds of thousands of Afghans back home. Approximately three of every four Afghans have gone through internal, external or multiple displacements in their lifetimes. There are about 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees in 70 different countries, with 95% hosted by two countries: Iran and Pakistan.

Now in its eighth year of war, the Syrian conflict is still the world’s worst refugee crisis. As of September 2017, Syrian refugees number six million, growing from 100,000 in 2012, 1.5 million in 2013, and 4.8 million at the end of 2016. Despite UN Security Council measures, including the passing of a month-long ceasefire on February 24, after 500 people were killed in a week, the conflict in Eastern Ghouta has seen no end. Over 4,000 Syrians have been killed or maimed since mid-February. The Syrian war sees no end; fighting only continues to worsen, with hundreds of thousands uprooted in Idlib and the continued horrific death toll in Eastern Ghouta. An estimated 500,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011. Moreover, Syria’s health system has collapsed, with medics often forced to used unsanitized medical supplies and a lack of blood (as blood banks are often bombed) and technology.

Dr. Housam Moustafa, a surgeon in training, treated a Syrian rebel at a clinic in Reyhanli, Turkey. Daniel Etter for The New York Times

“All ambulances are short of critical medical supplies,” says a Syrian paramedic in Eastern Ghouta. “We have the basics such as blood pressure machines, thermometers, stretchers and first aid materials like bandages. But often, the material is of bad quality.”

More than 3 million Syrian children under 5 don’t have enough food to eat; and over 1.75 million youths do not attend school in Syria. Even more at risk of dropping out to provide for their families or due to the harrowing dangers they face.

“As we enter the eighth year of this ruinous war in Syria, it is harrowing to hear of the alleged attacks in Douma,” Syria Response Director Wynn Flaten said in an April 12 statement. “It is utterly heartbreaking to see the constant calls from humanitarian organizations to put an end to the violence, suffering, and devastation of Syrian people, go unnoticed.”

Other atrocities continue as well. Palestine’s refugee crisis is particularly unique, as in no other case has refugee status been expanded to include consecutive generations over multiple decades. Per BBC’s Martin Asser, the math adds up to over six million Palestinian refugees–one of the largest displaced populations in the world.

Men scramble to catch food distributed by aid groups in Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh (09/17/2017).

The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya that began on August 25th, 2017, has forced almost 700,000 Rohingya to camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, during mass floods and monsoon season. Refugees have reported mass killings, arson, and rape. Not unlike Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition is funded by the US and UK, there is resistance from Myanmar’s allies, China and Russia, over how involved the UN should be. Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts in Rakhine on August 25 sparked the military operation. In one account, a woman details how she watched as her child was thrown into a fire, her husband was killed, a girl of 12 was raped by 5 men.


Other significant refugee crises in the world:

Ukraine faces a refugee crisis amidst years of war on various fronts, forcing more than 2 million from their homes.

Venezuelans began to flee their country in 2015, per economic collapse and high crime rates. The country stopped releasing murder statistics in 2005. Every day five thousand Venezuelans flee the economic collapse of their country.

Yazidi genocide in 2014, resulting in thousands of deaths at the hands of ISIS.


By: Hersheeta Gupta