The refugee crisis is global

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The refugee crisis is global.

By Charlie Holt


The Za'atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Sharnoff's Global Views under a Creative Commons Licence

Photos have a lot of power.

For months, our leaders have been telling us that the refugee crisis is not a humanitarian crisis.

Theresa May (British Home Secretary) told Radio 4 in May that most migrants were Africans travelling for economic reasons.

Phillip Hammond (Foreign Secretary of State) told the BBC in August that it is not new to have migrants in the sea, because ‘there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.’

Finally, David Cameron said: ‘A lot of people coming to Europe want a better life. They are economic migrants and they want to enter Britain illegally.’

On Wednesday 2 September, one photo showed that this is not true. The picture of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi on a beach in Turkey did more than words to show the desperation of the people escaping conflict in Syria. The Prime Minister changed his opinion because of one photo.

But this isn’t a ‘European’ refugee crisis, or a ‘German’ refugee crisis, as Viktor Orbán Hungary’s leader said. This is a ‘global’ refugee crisis - bigger than any other since the Second World War.

The cause of this crisis is not one conflict, but many problems from Nigeria to Afghanistan, from Burma to eastern Europe.

It was strange that Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, said that because the refugees come from many different countries, it is not so important to help them. ‘Many come from Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, The Gambia or Senegal,’ Farage said: ‘they are not all from Syria. If you come from one of those countries, this alone does not make you a true asylum seeker.’

In July, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) started fighting more with the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab – with sexual violence and shooting unarmed civilians – and a few days ago, Al-Shabab started to fight back.

Nigeria is fighting militant Islamists, Boko Haram. This has become worse in the last year – twice as many children (800,000) have had to escape to safety. And Eritrea has become one of the most controlling countries in the world. It now has more censorship than North Korea.

Do we now think that all this is OK, and only the people in the very worst situations are ‘real’ refugees?

The Rohingya in Southeast Asia or nomads in Eastern Africa still ask for protection. But people don’t talk about their problems on social media.

Of course, just because you come from one of these countries, it does not mean you are a refugee. But it does show that the hundreds of thousands of people trying to get into Europe are not just ‘trying to get a better life’.

The head of the UN’s refugee agency said the ‘world is a mess’. About 1 in 122 people in the world is now a refugee, internationally displaced (has no home) or an asylum-seeker.

There are not so many wars around the world now, but there are three times more deaths from conflict since 2008. People are killed by violent groups: ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Al-Shabaab in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Everywhere in the world is affected by the crisis. I am writing this in Hargeisa, Republic of Somaliland, which is now an autonomous region of Somalia. In Hargeisa you can see the effects from Yemen – another conflict area that has recently become a civil war – or south-central Somalia, with many refugees outside many of the NGOs in the city.

More than 5,000 people escaping Yemen’s civil war have come to Somaliland since March. And there are more than 20,000 refugees from south-central Somalia.

The refugee crisis has been caused because more people than ever around the world have to leave their homes. It has not been caused by evil people traffickers or Africans who want to make money. It is also a global crisis because it is everyone’s problem. Everyone needs to help to solve the problem.

It is obvious that trying to solve a serious long-term problem (civil war in Syria) is not going to make a difference to people dying now trying to get to Europe.

But it is true that the crisis we are now seeing so much in the media is because of a much bigger problem than many people think.

The number of refugees will not go down if we have sniffer dogs, heavy military, border fences or dirty Hungarian camps. If your life is in danger if you stay in your country, these things will not stop you leaving.

This will only change if we have a global response to the global problem. We need an international or regional resettlement programme (the British government have not agreed to this), and an international approach to the real practical problems.

And British leaders need to understand what their people think and accept the reality: this is not a ‘swarm’ (big group of insects) of economic migration, but a very serious humanitarian crisis.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).