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.

Health Doesn’t Ask for a Passport

Last month saw the observance of World Refugee Day, and as the Swedish Organization for Global Health’s Girls’ Globe Blog Writer, I had planned to write a piece on the health issues migrants and refugees face.

Instead, I was silenced by outrage, anger, overwhelm, and shock – which is rare for me and also a privilege not available to all amidst crisis. The (often forced) mobility of humans around the world in 2018 has been responded to in every single wrong way possible from countries with the ability to help.

As a living, breathing human being, I feel connected to others – and not just those who have the same passport as I do. This is what makes the refugee crisis so raw, and the policies that endanger fellow human lives so disgusting, unacceptable, and devastating. Humans should be saved from drowning, empowered out of poverty, saved from war and death, maintained as a family.

I cannot and will never be okay with ‘othering’, or with seeing precious lives in danger, exploited, separated, willingly left in dangerous waters – both literally and figuratively. We know that women and girls, in all their diversities, are disproportionately at risk whether or not they leave their homes or stay in places that feel like the mouth of a shark”. We have felt, all of us, that visceral need to respond when another human is struggling. 

So, after some moments of action, phone calls with my friends and family, and inspiration from people like the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E. Tendayi Achiume, I write these words both to regain my own voice and ignite yours. There is much to say about the refugee crisis and the treatment of people across the world in 2018.

The truth is, health does not discriminate. It does not check passports, ask age, or inquire if one can afford the staggering cost to pay for simple care.

Globally, there are 258 million cross-border migrants and 753 million internal border migrants (according to the World Health Organization). The physical and mental well-being of migrants, refugees, immigrants, and all people who are mobile, is an enormous concern. These risks are present whether or not a migrant or refugee stays in their country, resides in a camp, or travels to a new country. The risks are present in each place. Like all health threats, if left unaddressed, the contagion effect will continue within vulnerable populations in a cyclical manner.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reminds us that “Individuals who are stateless face grave and often insurmountable barriers”, especially regarding healthcare. Health risks for women include sexual violence and reproductive health, in addition to accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiovascular events, pregnancy- and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension”, which the WHO regional office in Europe has documented.

Conditions where life and death are two close alternatives make luxuries like safety, care, protection, health, and hygiene hard to prioritize – especially without help. Though physical health care has traditionally been the main priority, mental health care for migrants and refugees must now become equally important.  

As I finish writing this long-awaited post, I see a news alert pop up on my screen with a picture of a woman clutching her toddler in reunification. The headline reads: My Son is Not the Same. This woman’s son was stolen from her arms at the border of the United States and Mexico, and kept from her for eighty-five days.

Trauma lives in the body and is embedded in the mind. While refugees, migrants and humans who face difficulty in life are incredibly resilient, they are not without scars. Our work now must be two-fold: prevent more atrocities and help our brothers and sisters, our fellow humans, to heal.

This is a reminder that we are not without agency to help change things. We do not need to be an elected official or head of an organization to help. I’ve compiled a short list of organizations to consider getting involved with. Please comment below to add!

Health
Rescue and Advocacy
Comprehensive
Law
Policy-based
  • The Global Compact for Migration was finally adopted after months of deliberation, on July 13, 2018. The word “health” does not appear at all in the three page document. This is a problem and needs to be changed.
Social Media
  • Videos to share
  • Follow the above organizations on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other favorite platforms

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.

Inspiration and Hope on World Refugee Day

Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the 50 million refugees in the world today are women and children.

It is widely understood that life as a refugee is a constant struggle. However, rather than focusing on the countless hardships refugees endure, I want to use today, World Refugee Day, as an opportunity to shine a light on amazing female refugees that refuse to be silenced or lose hope.

In Kenya, over 500,000 refugees take shelter at Dadaab Refugee Camp, making it the largest camp of its kind in the world. However, the camp’s massive size does not come close to the extraordinary strength, determination and courage of its people.

Meet 18 year old Koswar Asad Warsame. Like many young girls around the world, she loves poetry.  In the videos below, Koswar reads her extraordinary original poetry – poems of both empowerment and sorrow.

In “My Future Will Never Go With My Home,” Koswar questions the true meaning of home and demonstrates a wisdom and talent beyond her years.

My Future Will Never Go With My Home 

I am a Somalian child

who is homeless.

My home is taken

but my future will never go with my home.

I am an African child

who survived for long time.

For how long shall I be mistreated?

For how long shall I move from country to country?

Home is the best.

My future is my home.

In “Peace Must Prevail,” Koswar waits for Peace and questions Peace’s absence from her life. 

 

Peace Must Prevail 

All people of the world,

listen to my bitter saying of lamentation.

The pain and clamor of nation,

I cry for the finishing light of my future

lost in conflict.

Peace, you are the only cure of our pain,

the only solution.

Peace must prevail.

 

Thousands are killed and thousands are displaced.

Our dreams to be doctors, teachers, and lawyers

had all been squashed like a thunderstorm in flash.

There is no way to peace.

You are the way.

Peace must prevail.

 

Peace, Peace, Peace,

where are you Peace?

You are very sweet but

never taste you.

You are the best friend but

never meet you.

You are very beautiful but

never watched you.

Dear Peace, why have I miss you?

I am hungry and thirst for you.

I hope for peace.

The black man’s peace.

Peace must prevail.

 Although powerful, poetry is not the only artistic outlet employed by Dadaab refugees. One Somali mother empowers and inspires through song. “Buranpur,” a poetic prayer, calls for an end to widespread violence and suffering in exchange for a rebirth of mercy and peace.

Similarly, in the video below, Somali women take part in a traditional Somali song and dance, bringing energy, hope and happiness to the dusty streets of Dadaab.

Although the above examples focus solely on Dadaab Refugee Camp, rest assured that similar stories of hope, empowerment and courage exist among refugees all over the world.

The plight of the refugee does not serve as a refugee’s entire life story, but only a small chapter. Once the world, as one, advocates for peace, we will see an end to the suffering.

After all, Peace must prevail.

Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories
Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories

To learn more about organizations working to empower refugees around the world, please visit the following:

Dadaab Stories

International Organization for Migration

International Rescue Committee

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Refugee Council USA

Women for Women International

Women’s Refugee Commission

 

All examples derived from DadaabStories.org