War Refugees

Partition refugees, Development Refugees, War Refugees—the world is full of refugees. And the problem is nowhere so acute as in the Middle East and South Asia. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with a huge refugee population because of the continuing war. Both sides—government forces and Taliban—are ruthless in forcing hundreds of thousands of families to leave their land of birth and face uncertain future. How many families have been ruined completely is not known. The UN office of war-related refugee rehabilitation is no answer to tackle this gigantic crisis the region is witnessing day in and day out as there is no sign of total peace. For all practical purposes Afgans have forgotten to live in peace.

Right now the barbaric war launched by the Islamic State to redraw the map of Iraq and Syria is creating refugees everyday. And the American response to Islamic State offensive by intensifying aerial bombing has just compounded the problem beyond control. Forced into desperation Syrian families affected by the on-going war are fleeing their country while seeking shelter in neighbouring countries.

There are more than 150,000 Syrian refugee families now living in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. In one in four Syrian refugee families, women are the sole providers. They are struggling to provide food and shelter for their children and often facing harassment, humiliation and isolation. Families and communities have been torn apart by the war in Syria. Almost three million people, mostly women and children, have been forced to flee the country. The Syrian refugees lack resources, jobs, food, housing, protection and security. Most of them do not have enough to eat. The Syrian women have lost their men in a vicious war, and are being treated as outcasts. Mothers have to spend hours getting their sick children to hospital for treatment. Having no choice, mothers let their children work, or leaving their children alone to go find a way, to make money. Very few Syrian refugee families have found paid work. A quarter receive cash from aid agencies. But measures are too inadequate to make Syrian refugees feel secure.

Nearer home Sri Lanka’s Tamil refugees—they are also war refugees—are the worst victims of genocide, albeit war crimes charges against the Sri Lankan army are largely being downplayed by Indian authorities for reasons best known to them. Even in Tamil Nadu the plight of these refugees doesn’t get proper attention it deserves.

During Sri Lanka’s three decades civil war, several thousand Tamils from Sri Lanka, migrated to India, seeking refugee status. There are over one lac Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees living in 115 refugee camps, residing in Tamil Nadu. Their land in North Sri Lanka, has since been taken over by the Sri Lankan army. The population of Sri Lanka’s northern province has declined considerably after the civil war. Till date there are no indications of the migrants returning back to Sri Lanka, settling in their own lands, with secure livelihoods. There has been no memo of understanding between the governments of India and Sri Lanka, for the return of the refugees. In North Sri Lanka, the army has allegedly been on land grabbing and heavy militarization. Women are insecure. Minority groups, like Muslims and Indian origin Tamils inhabit the island’s Central province.

President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has denied visas to the United Nations investigators of alleged war crimes on the island. The UN Human Rights Council voted in March 2014 to launch an investigation into allegations, that upto 40,000 civilians were killed by Sri Lanka’s military during the last months of the war with Tamil separatists.

It is unlikely a war crimes tribunal drawing international attention the way it did during Vietnam War, mainly at the initiative of Bertrand Russel would be set up anytime soon. The Russels are rare species these days. Meanwhile the agony of Syrian refugees caught between the cross-fire of Islamic State and America-led bombing mission, is multiplying with every passing day.

Vol. 47, No. 16, Oct 26 - Nov 1, 2014