We Need Global Solidarity for Refugees

As a European and a Swede (and an economist), I am struck by how often we discuss refugees in terms of the “cost” of accepting asylum seekers.

These conversations miss out on the many economic benefits of migration. Young refugees are often so inclined to start building their new lives that they integrate quite quickly into a new country with much to offer. We also miss the most important component of the conversation – the refugees themselves.

Wars, violence and persecution lead to people fleeing from their homes. A new report released on June 19, 2019 from UNHCR shows that 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide – more than the UN Refugee Agency has ever recorded. Levels have doubled in the past 20 years and increased by 2.3 million people in the past year alone.

This year’s UNHCR Global Trends report states that these figures are conservative since the Venezuelan crisis is only partly reflected. According to data from neighboring nations, about 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country, which makes it one of the world’s largest displacement crises in recent history.

What do these numbers actually mean? 

The majority of individuals who are forcibly displaced are Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – people who are displaced to other areas within their own country. There are 41.3 million IDPs worldwide. Refugees – people forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution – accounted for 25.9 million people worldwide in 2018 (half a million more than in 2017). Asylum seekers are people outside their country of origin who receive international protection but are awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. They account for 3.5 million people globally.

Now, here are some important facts: 

  • About 80% of refugees live in countries neighboring their countries of origin
  • The world’s poorest countries host a third of all refugees worldwide
  • High income countries (like most countries in Europe) host only 2.7 refugees per 1,000 of population on average
  • In 2018, every second refugee was a child

Research shows that women and children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war to further inhibit civilian populations to fight for peace and their fundamental human rights. One very recent case of this is Sudan today. 

Europe has seen a surge of refugees since 2014. Many have risked their lives in horribly overcrowded rubber dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea for safety – sometime without functioning life vests. UNHCR estimates that over 17,800 people have died at sea between 2014 and 2018. In this year alone, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 559 people have died and are missing.

The largest group of people seeking refuge in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean are from Afghanistan.

The war-torn nation was recently reported as the most dangerous country in the world, and 2018 was the most deadly year ever recorded for civilians in Afghanistan.

So what is Europe doing to support asylum seekers from Afghanistan and those crossing the Mediterranean Sea? From what I understand and see in my daily life in Sweden – not enough.

This week, the Swedish parliament voted to extend a “temporary” stringent law which has been highly criticized by humanitarian aid organizations and UN Agencies. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and other countries in Europe continue to deport individuals back to Afghanistan – many of whom arrived in Europe as unaccompanied minors several years ago.

Sea rescues have been criminalized as NGO rescue ships are no longer permitted to work out of Italy. Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces 20 years in prison and horrendous fines for saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean.

Sweden is using old prisons to forcibly detain high-school attending, Swedish speaking young asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who await deportations. The wait may last several months and the migration and judicial system for asylum seekers is highly criticized. Racism is becoming more visible.

This week, a friend of mine who is an Afghani asylum seeker in Sweden was harassed by police for no reason as he got off a train. We later found out from migration officials that they have been ordered to intimidate asylum seekers so that they will be more inclined to return voluntarily.

Despite being an eternal optimist, I have a hard time seeing anything positive in this stark situation. The message that Europe is sending is that some lives are valued less than others – that some lives are just not important enough to be saved.

“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees. We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi.

“We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”

We are facing a European crisis that will cost us our solidarity, our humanity and our safeguarding of human rights. The price is too high. If we lose these, we won’t have anything of value left.

I am thankful to be a part of the Swedish Facebook group Vi står inte ut! (We can’t stand it!) which has become a network of 10,000 individuals working to support asylum seekers in various ways. It is through networks like this one that I witness solidarity and fire to fight for our sisters and brothers from other countries.

It is difficult to continue to read and share the stories of refugees, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and fight for a change in our world today.

World Refugee Day 2018

The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide hit a new record in 2017: 68.5 million. It’s the equivalent of 44,400 people each day, and means that the world’s forcibly displaced population is now greater than the total population of the United Kingdom.

Two-thirds of all refugees come from 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar & Somalia. In March, the conflict in Syria entered its eighth year, with no end in sight. Since August last year, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. Millions from South Sudan have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Much of our news coverage remains focused on refugee resettlement in developed countries, or rather, on developed countries’ efforts to restrict access, block borders and, most recently, to tear families apart. However, figures show that developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugee population.

At least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence. Children make up 52% of refugees worldwide. 9 months on from the Myanmar military crackdown, thousands of Rohingya rape victims are giving birth in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

The state of our world today will go down in history. Children will study it in classrooms of the future. And yet, as new reports roll in, numbers rise, conflicts persist, disasters strike and crises unfold, it can be difficult just to keep up, never mind to feel hopeful or inspired or useful.

This year, the statistics and stories shared to mark World Refugee Day feel overwhelming to me and the scale of our global crisis feels paralysing. But if nothing else, today is a much-needed reminder to stay informed, and to encourage the people around us to do so too.

This year, World Refugee Day is a reminder that no act is too small and that words have power. It’s a reminder to take breaks from scrolling and shopping and feeling disconnected to give ourselves time to read and listen and do what we can to remain aware. The world needs us to be informed so that we can speak, act and vote in ways that help us move into a future where all people can live in peace and security.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Informed this World Refugee Day:
  1. Read the new UNHCR report on global displacement.
  2. Read articles and look at photographs which highlight the humans behind the numbers.
  3. Read blog posts by women and girls around the world.
  4. Take time to research local organizations supporting refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in your own neighborhood/country, and find out how you can best support them. It could be by donating money, volunteering your time or simply by helping to spread the word about their work.
  5. Celebrate examples of passionate collective action and remember: we are not powerless.

Global Displacement at a Record High – Even for Expecting & New Mothers

Over 42,000 people fled their homes every single day in 2014, the UN refugee agency UNHCR reported in the release of their annual report last week.

The number of displaced people in the world today has hit an all time high due to war and conflict, amounting to almost 60 million people – half of them children. If all these people formed a country, it would be the 24th largest and more than 6 times the population of my home country, Sweden.

So, what actually happens to people who have been forced from their homes and away from their every-day lives?

Most are displaced within their country or in neighboring countries, where life is on hold at a refugee camp – without access to basic necessities and activities, like jobs and education. The majority of refugees don’t find a safe haven in Europe or other western countries, and only a small number of people have the option to take the risky, if not deadly, journey across the Mediterranean.

In the example of Syria, Hans Rosling explains it well:

Last year Save the Children reported that the average refugee situation lasts 17 years and now UNHCR says that at this rate the global situation is likely to worsen.

In situations of war, conflicts, persecution and even natural disasters women and girls pay an even higher price. Sexual violence is used as a tactical weapon of war and in refugee camps women and girls face a high risk of rape, other forms of sexual violence and early marriage. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure and health systems leave refugee populations without access to basic health care.

Mother and Newborn
Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

Pregnant and breastfeeding women cannot put their and their babies’ lives on hold. Life is just beginning and these women have an incredible need for maternal and newborn health services, as well as a nutritious diet for themselves and their babies.

UNFPA estimates that almost half a million Syrian women are pregnant. In Nepal, Save the Children estimates that 21,000 women were in their third trimester when the earthquake struck. Being in the last stages of pregnancy is tough, physically and psychologically. As a woman your body is the lifeline for a new human being and you are the one foremost responsible for the well-being of your little one – but without access to basic services and support this is almost impossible!

The number of displaced people is now at a record high, and so is the number of expecting and new mothers who have been forced away from what they had hoped would be a safe place for their new babies.

As we urge our leaders to take critical action to address wars, conflicts and natural disasters, we must ensure that maternal, newborn and adolescent health is a crucial and central part of their response.

Learn more and join the conversation next Tuesday as we discuss how to respond to women’s and children’s health needs in crisis situations with partners Save the Children, Women LEAD Nepal and Edna Adan Hospital Foundation. 


Here are a few things you can do today

Featured Image Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr 


Today is World Humanitarian Day. Listen to Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, explain what this day is for and how we can turn words into action! 

This year the World Humanitarian Day project is a month-long campaign of events around the world to raise much-needed funds to continue the effort to help others. This is done through the power of WORDS. Brands, organizations and individuals can sponsor words to support projects that are helping people on the ground – so every time you say #TheWorldNeedsMore #Equality, you actually support a more equal world!

We are raising our voices on this day and sharing what we think #TheWorldNeedsMore.


Read more, raise your voice, sponsor words and donate to what you think the world needs more of! The campaign continues 37 more days, so say something and create change!

Go to WorldHumanitarianDay.org