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Every day 42,000 must flee their homes

Approximately 42,000 people will mark World Refugee Day today by closing the door to their home and making a treacherous journey into an unknown future. That’s 42,000 people – more than the population of Longford – fleeing from their homes, abandoning their entire lives in search of safety.
The number of refugees and displaced people around the world – approximately 60 million – is equal to the population of Italy.
Given the numbers, it is fitting that there is a dedicated day to reflect on their plight. Unfortunately, thinking about the reality of refugee life is not something many political leaders do very often.

The EU’s response to the refugee crisis has been shameful. Instead of upholding international law – laws designed to protect Europeans in the aftermath of World War II – they have opted to build walls, close borders and treat desperate human beings as an inconvenient menace.

The number of refugees continues to rise year-on-year, but 75 per cent of refugees come from just 11 countries. Tackling the root causes of displacement in these countries could significantly reduce the stream of human misery that flows from inside their borders.

Afghanistan was for many years the source of the largest numbers of displaced people, but recently Syria assumed this unwanted title.

Approximately 95 per cent of Syrian refugees are living in the countries which border it. This reflects the global trend – when people flee, they generally stay as close to their home as they can. A handful of countries – none of which are in the EU – host over 86% of the world’s refugees.

The Kenyan Government recently criticised Western governments for their desire to let a small number of countries take responsibility for the welfare of millions.
Kenya has played a remarkable role in providing refuge for millions of Somalis over the last two decades. However, Somalis born in camps in Kenya face a daunting future as the Kenyan Government threatens to close the Dadaab Refugee Camp, home to over 300,000 Somali refugees. Where they will go? Many ‘Somalis’ living in camps in Kenya have never been to Somalia. They were born and continue to live in legal limbo, belonging to nowhere.

Pope Francis has also raised concern about the current treatment of refugees and migrants in Europe. Upon receiving the Charlemagne prize for distinguished service on behalf of European unification, he reiterated the importance of dignity, respect and compassion when he said “I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.”

The upcoming UN General Assembly high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants next September represents an opportunity for the international community to send a strong signal that the human rights of refugees and migrants are not up for debate, and that people fleeing conflict, persecution, natural disasters, drought and the effects of climate change are entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights, just like every other human being.

The process will be led by Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, David Donoghue, and his Jordanian counterpart, Dina Kawar. Ireland has and continues to support peace efforts and conflict resolution in a number contexts. We can and must do more however. In preparation for this meeting, there are a number of steps Ireland must take to get our own house in order.

These steps are outlined in the April report of the Secretary General, which urges governments to uphold international law and recognise that a state’s responsibility to protect refugees is not dependent on its geographic proximity to them.

On World Refugee Day, the idea of choice is important. No one chooses to give up their lives and start again in a new and often hostile environment. No one choses for their children to lose out on years of schooling or their new born to have no legal identity.

As Europeans, this is the fact we miss.

The mentality of Europe towards refugees is one of being under siege, unable to cope with the fact that people need shelter within the borders of Europe.

Becoming a refugee is never a choice. This is not a situation we can imagine ourselves ever being in. Many millions of Syrians would have said the same thing five years ago.

Today, and every day, we must remember that.

By Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire

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