Refugees Everywhere

Twenty-first-century conflicts have already created millions of refugees. In fact, by mid-year 2023, the U N High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number at 36.4 million worldwide, a number that has doubled in just the last seven years. Three countries alone–Syria (6.5 million), Afghanistan (6.1 million), and Ukraine (5.9 million)–accounted for 52% of all external refugees in 2023.

In truth those 36.4 million refugees only include people officially registered with the UNHCR (30.5 million) or with UNWRA, the U N Works Relief Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (5.9 million). UNWRA was created in 1952, specifically to serve people displaced in the formation of Israel in 1948. Unlike the UNHCR, it provides direct service to registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and Gaza.

And that figure doesn’t even include the majority of people fleeing war and other systemic and climate violence, who are “internally displaced persons”. They are not counted as refugees in the legal sense because, while they’ve lost their homes, they still remain inside their own national borders. There were 62.2 million internally displaced persons when the UNHCR issued that mid-2023 report.

 According to the UNHCR, “Low- and middle-income countries host 75% of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection.” Furthermore, “the Least Developed Countries provide asylum to 20% of the total.”

The Tory government in London has come up with a perverse scheme to potentially ship any asylum seekers approaching Great Britain by boat to Rwanda for “processing” in return for financial support of various kinds. (In November 2023, that country’s Supreme Court nixed the plan, but in December the government signed a new agreement with Rwanda, which it claims will satisfy the court’s objections to the agreement.)

 The two countries taking in the most refugees at the moment are Iran and Turkey, at 3.4 million each, followed by Germany and Colombia at 2.5 million each and Pakistan at 2.1 million.

Right now refugees are being created in enormous numbers with no apparent end in sight in two regions---Gaza and Sudan. For Gaza people around the world just can’t take their eyes off at the moment (and for good reason!), while Sudan seems almost entirely forgotten.

 Since Hamas’s vicious and criminal October 7th attack on targets in Israel, the world has focused intently on events in Israel-Palestine. The UNHCR’s 2023 report was compiled before the attack and Israel’s subsequent and ongoing genocidal destruction of Gaza, which has seen the deaths of more than 21,000 Gazans (a majority of them women and children) and the loss of more than half of its housing stock and three-quarters of its 36 hospitals. In one sense, Gaza’s residents are not new refugees. More than 85% of its pre-war population of 2.3 million are now “merely” considered internally displaced. Yes, they have been starved, deprived of medical care and potable water, harried by bombs and missiles falling on homes and temporary shelters from one part of that 25-mile-long strip of land to the other, and forced into an ever-shrinking area near Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. Still, for now they remain in Gaza with nowhere else to go.

 While the world has watched Gaza’s decimation in horror, an even larger refugee crisis in the African nation of Sudan has gone almost unremarked upon. In 2019, a massive nonviolent movement of Sudanese civilians led to a military coup against long time dictator Omar Bashir. While the military initially agreed to hand power over to civilian rule in two years, by October 2021, its leaders had declared their intention to remain in power, while the United States, despite rhetoric supporting civilian rule, stood idly by. Since then, war between the military government and a paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, has displaced 4.5 million or more within Sudan, while another 1.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries.


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Vol 56, No. 33, Feb 11 - 17, 2024