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By nightfall this evening 34,000 people will have fled their homes because of violence and persecution.
That is the number of people – equivalent almost to the entire population of Co. Longford – estimated to become displaced on a daily basis around the world.
With 65 million people displaced around the world – the highest numbers since World War Two – there is no debating the fact that this is one of the biggest crises of our time.
Sadly, the political will to prevent further displacement and protect existing refugees fails to match the magnitude of the problem. Displacement is always somebody else’s problem; refugees are regarded as a burden that somebody else should deal with.
A UN summit is taking place today to address the movement of refugees and migrants. As co-chair of the meeting, along with Jordan, Ireland is in a unique place to contribute to generating the political will that is currently so lacking.
This summit comes at a time when the approach by many governments to dealing with refugees and large-scale migration is worrying. A year after the EU launched a two-year plan aimed at resettling 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, only 4,000 have been resettled.
Ireland committed to resettling 4,000 Syrian refugees but so far only 311 have arrived. This country has not prioritised living up to its commitment.
Some EU countries have responded to the needs of the Syrian people by building walls and fences. Many Europeans mock Donald Trump for calling for a wall to stop Mexicans reaching America, yet we seem willing to sit back and watch the very same be done in the EU.
Despite a perception promoted in some quarters that Europe is bearing the brunt of the global refugee crisis, the fact remains that eighty per cent of refugees are hosted in the developing world. Lebanon and Turkey host over 3.7 million Syrian refugees between them. The EU is content to ignore the enormous strain that is putting on those countries. A country’s responsibility to provide shelter to people fleeing war should be determined by international law, not geography.
Colleagues who spent time in refugee centres in Greece tell me of the sense of hopelessness facing people there. These are people who have fled from places like Aleppo, whose homes have been bombed and family members killed. They had no choice but to leave, yet they remain trapped in bureaucratic limbo, unwanted by Europe and unable to return home.
As world leaders gather in New York for this summit, will they carry with them the needs of these people? Or will they gather with a determination that they should have no role to play in offering safety to people whose lives have been destroyed by war? Sadly, all the evidence points to the latter.
The draft outcome document for the Summit calls for global approaches and global solutions. However, the outcome will be non-binding. Declarations will be based on laws that already exist but there will be no mechanism to hold any country to account for failure to follow-through on their declarations. This will be a summit of vague promises rather than practical solutions.
That principle stands for people fleeing the war in Syria but also those fleeing conflict elsewhere. Over half of the world’s refugees come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Over 340,000 Somali refugees live in Daadab in Kenya. This is the largest refugee camp in the world.
Worryingly, 150,000 Somalis in Daadab face repatriation to Somalia. This is not a straightforward matter of simply packing up and unpacking again. Lives are established, businesses are built and identities are formed. Many ‘Somali’ refugees living in Daadab have never been to Somalia, having been born and raised in the camp.
Tens of thousands of refugees around the world will spend tonight just as they spend every night: living in a tent, dependent on others for everything. This is a humiliation to people who are seeking safety, security and dignity.
Being a refugee is exhausting. Putting life on hold is devastating. In a time when the human rights of refugees and migrants are being eroded and violated at alarming rates, it is urgent that all UN member states come to New York and turn commitments and words into action.
As they meet in New York, politicians would do well to remember the 34,000 people who will spend that day fleeing their homes in the hope that they can find safety elsewhere.
The causes of displacement are political. So are the solutions.