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Human Rights

International Migrants Day 2021: ‘No one chooses to give up their lives and start again in a new and often hostile environment’

Every day around the world, millions of people leave their homes in search of economic opportunities or to join family members. Others, move to escape conflict, human rights violations or the adverse effects of climate change.

According to the IOM World Migration Report 2020, the number of international migrants is estimated to be 272 million globally.

While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others migrate out of necessity. According to UNHCR, the number of globally forcibly displaced people worldwide was 82.4 million at the end of 2020.

Of these, 21 million were refugees.  48 million people were internally displaced, 4.1 million were asylum-seekers, and 3.9 million were Venezuelans displaced abroad.

Today, on International Migrants 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 newborn to have no legal identity.

The mentality of Europe towards refugees can often be 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. Millions of Syrians would have said the same thing five years ago.

Today, and every day, we must remember that.

Key facts about migration:

  • 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted in low-income countries, which are already struggling with high levels of poverty
  • UNHCR identified 1.4 million refugees as particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement, yet only 22,800 refugees were resettled in 2020
  • Forced displacement has almost doubled in the last decade since 2010
  • More than two thirds of all refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad came from just five countries

Fadi Hallisso, Co-Founder and CEO of Basmeh & Zeitooneh, is a former civil engineer and was pursuing a career as a Jesuit priest in Lebanon when the conflict in his home country of Syria escalated.

Seeing the Syrian death toll rise drove Fadi to action.

In 2012, he left the priesthood to co-found the organisation Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z), which supports Syrian refugees and vulnerable populations living in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh’s Impact

Since 2012, working in partnership with Trócaire, B&Z has been providing these communities with education, protection, ways to earn an income and relief services.

“One of our main priorities is ensuring that families can sustain their livelihoods. People can’t survive on aid alone, they need to work and provide for themselves. We provide people with training on how to enter the labour market, and provide them with funding to start their own businesses and projects,” Fadi said.

“In our schools, we support 2,400 Syrian refugees to continue their education by offering retention support and removing barriers to their education. In our learning centres, we teach Syrian refugees Arabic, English, math, science, literacy and Turkish to prepare them to re-enrol in formal education.”

In addition to forced displacement and economic insecurity, Covid-19 is now also a threat to people living in crowded camps that often lack basic sanitation.

Fadi says the biggest problem his organisation now faces is trying to ensure funding continues to those most in need.

“The next year will be a fight for survival,” Fadi said.

“When Covid-19 first hit, we mobilised our resources quickly to respond to the lockdown. In Lebanon, a lot of people work in the informal sector so they are counting on daily wages to survive. Lockdown means that they might be left to starve. We supported some 20,000 families with food packages, cash and hygiene kits.”

“We also urged donors to donate money to get devices for our students to continue their schoolwork. Our teachers adapted quickly to doing lessons on WhatsApp and we developed an online platform for students to work with their teachers.”

“Unfortunately, as always, those with the least resources are most affected by Covid-19. A lot of people around the world are able to sit at home and wait for the pandemic to pass, but Syrian refugees didn’t have that luxury because their livelihoods depend on them reporting to work daily. Fortunately, we were able to respond quickly to families’ needs because of the support of our donors.”

“However, with the effects of Covid-19, 2022 will be a very grim year for us because there are no new cycles of funding being announced and it is becoming harder to secure any available funding as we have to compete with international organisations.”

“Thankfully, we are partners with Trócaire and it has been a very good partnership for us. Trócaire is always very understanding of our needs and difficulties and we have a say in the decision-making.”

 

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