The increasingly dramatic images on our televisions and in our newspapers highlight the need for richer countries to rethink their asylum and immigration policies that are too often based on exclusion and deterrence rather than providing humanitarian assistance.
Disturbing news reports from Bodrum to Calais to Budapest and beyond - that seem to portray an "endless march of humanity" - expose the lack of a European consensus on dealing with this global issue in a humanitarian way. Instead of getting people back on their feet, some governments find it acceptable to reduce them to squalor. Building more fences and walls is creating an even bigger humanitarian problem with desperate people forced to take desperate measures in their efforts to find refuge and safety.
A global crisis
The context is a global displacement crisis, which is seeing more people forcibly displaced by war, violence and persecution than at any time since the Second World War - almost 60 million according to the most recent UN figures. Oxfam is helping more than 5 million people in conflict-affected areas, prioritizing our efforts in countries that, for whatever reason, cannot sufficiently help people in dire and life threatening circumstances.
One manifestation of this global crisis is a worsening humanitarian situation in parts of Europe driven by raging conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and abuses in Eritrea. More than 90,000 people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing during the first 6 months of 2015 and so far this year more than 2,600 migrants have drowned trying to reach Greece or Italy and the numbers are rising exponentially. The Eastern and Balkans routes, to Greece and Hungary respectively, have also grown significantly and the UN is expecting about 3,000 people to cross into Macedonia each day over the coming months.
The hidden cost
It is estimated that would-be migrants spend one billion euros a year attempting to reach Europe, while the EU spends one billion trying to keep them out.
This collective loss is equivalent to the entire EU annual budget for development aid for all 16 EU border countries in the east and south. Since 2000, European countries have collectively spent more than 11 billion euros on deportations alone.
The need for safe haven
With little sign of the conflict in Syria abating and 4 million refugees now registered in its neighboring countries, Oxfam has called on rich countries that have signed the UN refugee convention to commit to offering a safe haven to at least 5 percent of the refugee population, equivalent to 200,000 people, by the end of 2015. This would offer a lifeline to those resettled. With certain exceptions, the response has been poor.
Refugee numbers are at the highest levels globally since 1995 - over the last 5 years, 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Yet 86% of refugees are hosted in developing countries. EU’s neighbor Turkey is alone hosting one and a half million people. In Lebanon, one out of every four people is a refugee. In this context it as an embarrassment to see the leaders of Europe, one of the richest continents in the world, squabble over the resettlement of a few hundred thousand refugees among over 500 million European Union inhabitants.
And this terrible situation is being replicated in many other parts of the world. 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis boarded smugglers' boats on the Bay of Bengal in the first 3 months of 2015. And this year's ramped-up conflict in Yemen has driven many Somalis, who had fled their own homeland, to flee back across the Gulf of Aden.
Protecting the rights of all
Much of the media spotlight has focused on those who have been ‘forcibly displaced’ and that is understandable. However, it is important not to forget about the responsibility to respect the rights and human dignity of all those arriving at Europe’s borders. The EU has always championed human rights abroad and must do no less at home.
Many arrivals are suffering from abuses and trauma at the hands of traffickers and smugglers and may be in need of protection and assistance. It is a collective responsible of the EU to ensure that, regardless of where people have come from or why, there is sufficient capacity to receive, register, house and process all arrivals and ensure that their basic needs are met and their rights respected.
Oxfam is there
Oxfam's work includes supporting some areas where there are a high number of arrivals, such as its program in Italy to help asylum-seekers restart their lives. Oxfam Italia accommodates new arrivals from a wide range of countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Eritrea) - including women and children who have made the journey alone. As well as accommodation and living essentials, they are provided with legal and administrative support for submitting asylum claims, accessing health and social services, language classes and vocational training, voluntary work and social activities that help them develop relationships with the communities where they now live. Oxfam Italia is currently extending its work with a new program in Sicily to ensure that asylum seekers in the large reception centers there are receiving effective legal and psychological assistance, together with a mentor scheme for unaccompanied minors.
Oxfam is working globally in nine out of the top ten countries that are the source of refugees around the world. In Syria, Somalia, and countries of the Sahel, we deliver assistance for those affected by conflict, work to reduce inequality and poverty, and support civil society and citizens to claim their rights and be heard. We are also currently responding to many complex emergencies across the globe, helping very vulnerable people in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Tackle the root causes
The solution to a humanitarian crisis is a humanitarian solution – not placing more barriers and fences between those in need, and the protection and help they are entitled to. Richer countries need to realize that money is better spent on helping to solve the problems in those countries dealing with conflict and poverty. Tackling the root causes that push people to flee their homes means moving on many fronts including poverty reduction, ending violent conflict and rights abuses, and tackling inequality in part through fairer rules for tax and trade.
This entry posted by Attila Kulcsar, Oxfam Humanitarian Media Officer, on 4 September 2015.
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