What would you do if your country became mired in conflict? If the only way to protect your family was to put them in danger, to put them on a boat in the middle of the night? What would you do if there was no way back?
Worldwide, there are around 244 million people who have moved from one country to another as migrants or refugees. So far this year, more than 25 million people have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin, and another 40 million became displaced internally. The movement of people from one place to another is nothing new – throughout recorded history, people have always moved in search of a better, safer life for their families and themselves.
Migration is neither a problem nor a crisis – for countries of origin and destination, migration has always represented a positive economic and social contribution to development. Migration favours transfers of skills and knowledge that contribute to making societies more resilient. Unfortunately, fear and discrimination are shaping much of the conversation today. Confusion around the rights of refugees and migrants and the responsibilities that all states have towards them, as well as the current narrative on the topic can lead to tensions.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2015, there were 21.3 million refugees and 3.2 million asylum-seekers, the highest number in the past two decades
In 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa was home to the largest number of refugees in the world, an estimated 4.4 million people, with refugees originating from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan accounting for 80 per cent of that figure. Many live in a state of protracted displacement, caught between the inability to return home and the lack of durable solutions elsewhere – the average length of their displacement is 17 years. The number of refugees in the region is continuously growing, particularly due to the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and Syria.
Conflict is the main driver of displacement and movement of refugees in Africa. For example, fighting in South Sudan has intensified since July 2016, with the exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries growing at an alarming rate. It is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis. As of 8 March 2017, there was almost 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, half of them in Uganda, now the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.
Sudan is one of the main countries of asylum in the region. As of the end of 2016, there were nearly 800,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Sudan, including 500,000 refugees from Eritrea and Somalia as well as 300,000 South Sudanese refugees who have been arriving in Sudan since the emergency began in December 2013. Sudan is also an important country of transit for migrants and refugees, many of them from Eritrea, on their way to North Africa and Europe.
In East Africa, more than 250,000 people in Somalia over recent months following severe drought, with 102,000 people displaced in February 2017 alone. Movements across borders have also been reported, albeit on a smaller scale. Drought-induced displacement is likely to increase pressure on the resources available and could raise tensions with host communities.
During January-February 2017 more than 9,000 Salvadorans and 8,000 Hondurans (including approximately 1,500 women and 420 girls) have been deported from the United States and Mexico, and 5,000 Guatemalans have been deported from the United States alone.
Over 70 Venezuelan migrants, part of a total of 89 people who were prevented from entering Panama because they did not meet immigration requirements, are trapped on the border between Costa Rica and Panama after officials refused to let them re-enter the country. Most of them reportedly live in Panama, but went to Costa Rica with the intention of re-entering with a renewed tourist visa.
Since October 2016, violence in the northern part of Rakhine State in Myanmar has led to internal displacement and cross-border displacement to Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh. To date, approximately 74,550 persons are reported to have crossed into Bangladesh.
The current levels of assistance are not sufficient to meet the humanitarian needs of the new arrivals, nor the increased pressure they have placed on pre-existing humanitarian assistance – the new arrivals are adding to the already 300-500,000 registered refugees and persons without status who were in Cox’s Bazar.
The recent escalation of violence in Northern Shan State in Myanmar has resulted in the displacement of more than 20,000 persons across the border into China and an additional 2,000 persons internally within Myanmar.
More than 77,000 people have arrived in Europe in the first six months of 2017, with the vast majority arriving to Italy. Deaths at sea continue on an almost daily basis, with over 1,850 people dying at sea since January. More than 4,200 people in total died in the Mediterranean in 2016. The number of migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan has decreased while the number of migrants from Africa, particularly Nigeria and Eritrea, has increased.
The number of stranded migrants in Greece remains at around 60,000. Thousands more people remain stranded along the Balkan route.
There is a backlog in processing asylum applications in Europe with 56 per cent of applications pending for at least six months. In Germany, there are as many as 745,545 asylum applications registered – only 280,000 relate to new arrivals in Germany. The rest are from 2015.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is characterized by large scales of voluntary and involuntary people on the move. These include internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who constitute much of the humanitarian caseload of the region, as well as mixed-migration groups.
While these migration patterns are not new, the scale and complexity of this displacement results in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need. There are an estimated 35 million migrants and refugees in MENA, according to IOM.
Countries surrounding Syria and Iraq have long hosted millions of refugees from their respective conflicts, along with millions of Palestinian refugees. In North Africa, refugees and other migrants, many of whom have already faced harrowing journeys, either seek a new life in countries like Egypt and Morocco, or wait their chance to risk the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Throughout the world, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working to help refugees and other migrants access essential services including information, food and water, protection, health services, and more. As local actors, National Societies focus their efforts at community level, adopting holistic approaches that serve all those in need, including host communities that have similar needs to arriving refugees and vulnerable migrants.
In all aspects, the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in response to the challenges raised by migration are built around three strategic aims, namely:
- Save lives and restore dignity
- Enable safe and resilient living
- Promote social inclusion of migrants
We believe that people who are migrating must be able to receive necessary humanitarian assistance and protection at all stages of the journey, irrespective of their legal status. Our collective efforts aim to ensure that the needs, aspirations and entitlements of migrants, refugees and their communities are met, and they are made more resilient. Furthermore, we work to ensure that communities are supported to strengthen social inclusion and respect for diversity, and to break down barriers and misconceptions.
We are not working alone – National Societies, and the IFRC, work in partnership not only with refugees, migrants and local hosting communities, but also with national and international organizations that share common aims.
The impact of our work
In a community centre in Tansimorkhola, at the southern end of the giant camp that is home to almost 800,000 people who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, some impressive acting is going on. Staff and volunteers from a Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and Danish Red Cross psychosocial programme are putting local community volunteers through a series of likely scenarios for both monsoon and cyclone season.
Out in the blazing heat and humidity of Cox’s Bazar camps, it is a race against time for final pre-monsoon preparations to be made. The storm clouds are coming.
In the 1980s, Juma Khan was one of five million Afghans who fled the war with the Soviet Union, seeking refuge in Iran, Pakistan and other countries.
Migration and our Fundamental Principles
Our Fundamental Principles mean that we will not explicitly advocate either for or against migration. Instead, our focus should be on advocating for the safe and dignified treatment of people migrating at all points of their journeys, regardless of legal status. This includes advocating for policies to support social inclusion and non-discrimination, and building trust and understanding.