The Face of Resilience and Resolute: 2021 & Acute Refugee Crisis

According to UNHCR, 82.4 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, of which 48 million are internally displaced, and 26.4 million are refugees. With these staggering numbers in mind, it is important to understand what causes such large-scale displacements and why refugees are coerced into fleeing from their homes. This essay will outline some of the largest refugee crises in the world.
The ‘Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018’ report by UNHCR divulged a record high of forcibly displaced people worldwide – “the global population of forcibly displaced increased by 2.3 million people in 2018. By the end of the year, almost 70.8 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations” (UNHCR, 2018). According to statistics provided by UNHCR, these numbers have now risen to 82.4 million people who were forcibly displaced worldwide. It this clear that the number of refugees is rising, and much of that can be attributed to the rise in conflicts and persecution worldwide – “what we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution” (Grandi, 2018). However, before heading any further, it is imperative to establish which individuals fall under a ‘refugee’ category. Simply put, a refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee their home and country for fear of war, persecution or violence based on religion, nationality, ethnicity – to name a few. Though refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP’s) both flee home to survive, refugees have crossed international borders for safety while internally displaced persons find safety somewhere within their own country.
As has been established before, refugees and IDP’s flee home for several reasons, such as religious persecution that can take the form of forced conversions, violence, murder, sexual harassment or forced marriages. War is also a significant reason why refugees flee their homes – the civil conflict in Syria has led to 6.8 million refugees and 6.7 million people being internally displaced (World Vision, 2021). This essay will now be drawing attention to some of the most urgent refugee crises in the world.

The Syrian Refugee crisis is one of the world’s largest and most acute crises that has been going on for more than ten years. The UNHCR reports that more than 12 million people have been displaced, including 2.6 million children refugees and 2.5 million children living as internally displaced persons (World Vision, 2021). The civil war in Syria began in 2011 as the aftermath of uprisings against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad; since then, people have undergone severe conflicts that have led to the persecution and deaths of hundreds and thousands of people. More than half of the population in Syria requires humanitarian assistance due to the destruction of hospitals, schools, houses, and other essential infrastructure. More than a million people have also been affected by disruptions caused to the Alouk Water Station that directly provides clean drinking water, especially to the northeast of Syria. According to UNICEF director Ted Chaiban, Alouk Water Station provides water to approximately 460,000 people and has been damaged at least 24 times. The unprecedented attacks on a critical source of water supply are directly infringing on the Resolution 64/292 of UNGA that recognises the right to clean water and sanitation as a pre-requisite for the realisation of fundamental human rights.
In addition to the food insecurity crises, the economic impact of the war on Syria has created problems as well – “on top of the strain on families’ ability to secure basic food rations and household items, the economic impact of the war continues to drive serious child protection concerns, including negative impacts on education” (Alexander, 2021). Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse with poverty and joblessness on the rise – “at least 1.1 million Syrian refugees and displaced people in Syria have been driven into poverty as a result of the pandemic, according to a December 2020 report by the World Bank Group and the UN Refugee Agency” (Reid, 2021). It has also been estimated that more than half a million children are chronically malnourished in Syria (UNICEF, 2021). Moreover, hyperinflation has meant less food for families, and more and more children are being sent to work instead of schools. The war has taken its toll on the education sector, which, in the words of UNICEF, is “overstretched, underfunded and fragmented”. As a result, nearly 2.45 million children in Syria are out of school. These numbers have been confirmed by the UN as well – “nearly 700 attacks on education facilities and personnel in Syria since the verification of grave violations against children began. Last year, 52 attacks were confirmed” (Hadi & Chaiban, 2021). The UNICEF further added that in 2021 one in three schools in Syria could not be used because of the destructions caused by the conflicts. Students who attend schools face numerous issues such as overcrowding in classrooms, inadequate water, sanitation and electricity facilities. Such conditions thus have led to Syria facing one the largest displacement crises in the world.

Image Description: Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Za’atri Camp line up for relief items
Source: UNHCR

With nearly 6 million Afghans being forcibly displaced from their homes, this refugee crisis is one of the most acute humanitarian crises in the world. Of the 6 million people, three million are internally displaced, and 2.6 million are refugees. For nearly forty years, people in Afghanistan have fallen victim to a range of political and ecological turmoils such as the armed conflict between the state and non-state parties, violence sponsored by non-state actors, natural disasters, conflict-driven poverty, food insecurity and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of these critical conditions, Afghan citizens have fled to nearby bordering countries such as Pakistan and Iran, home to more than a million Afghan refugees. These numbers make Afghan refugees the third-largest displaced population in the world (UNHCR, 2021). According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi (2021), “Afghanistan’s displacement crisis is one of the largest and most protracted in UNHCR’s seven-decade history. We are now seeing the third generation of Afghan children born in exile”. With deepening poverty, no decline in the conflict and COVID-19 on the rise, levels of displacement have only risen, with an estimated 290,000 Afghans being internally displaced as of January 2021. Many experts believe that these conditions will lead to a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan because Afghan refugees have cited insecurity, violence and conflict as one of the main reasons they flee.
Moreover, many displaced people also report “interruptions to social services and a loss of income due to rising insecurity” and “incidents of extortion by non-state armed groups and the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on major roads” (Baloch, 2021). These incidents have increased the number of civilian casualties as well, including women and children. As a result, the Afghan refugee crisis is one of the most urgent crises in the world.

Image Description: Girl-children from Afghanistan in a refugee camp in Islamabad, Pakistan
Source: The UN Refugee Agency, Asia Pacific

South Sudan
As of 2021, data from UNHCR shows more than two million refugees and asylum seekers from South Sudan, with over 60% of the refugees being children. These numbers make South Sudan the largest refugee crisis in Africa and the third-largest refugee crisis globally. Owing to the South Sudanese Civil War that started in 2013, most refugees fleeing are women and children who have suffered chronic vulnerabilities such as sexual assaults, forced militarisation of children, starvation, and successive epidemic waves of Cholera. Inadequate rainfall in 2018 also worsened things for families, with statistics predicting acute food insecurity during the 2018-19 post-harvest period. Despite conflict declining since the mid of 2018 and other periods of relative stability, many households have faced difficulties in making ends meet as the conflict significantly disrupted livelihoods (Famine Early Warning Systems Network, 2019). Though South Sudan was recently established as a new country in 2011, conflict broke out just two years afterwards that led to a terrible order of things – “conflict broke out in the new country, leading to a complex and dangerous situation of armed conflict, economic decline, disease and hunger… this conflict has forced millions to flee and left millions more displaced inside the country” (UNHCR, 2019). Consequently, many have fled to neighbouring countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia etc.
According to UN spokesperson Jens Laerke (2021), South Sudan is, at the moment, witnessing high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. With half of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, children have been affected most severely as the UN estimates 19,000 children to have served in the ranks of armed forces since the conflict in 2013 (UNICEF, 2018). Reports by UNICEF in 2017 also showed that more than 1,000 children flee South Sudan every day in search of shelter and safety. Unfortunately, political conflict, droughts, famine, and violence have only increased forced displacements and a refugee crisis. While a few peace treaties have been signed throughout the war, many of these have often been violated, leading to a highly unstable environment and the continuation of violence.

Image Description: South Sudanese refugees in Uganda
Source: Oxfam International

In conclusion, the countries mentioned above are undergoing one of the worst refugee crises in the world. In the face of conflict and violence, the refugees and displaced people have shown incredible resilience. Nevertheless, they should not have to, which is why it is of utmost importance that governments of the discussed countries must establish peace so internally displaced civilians can live in their countries without constant violence. On the other hand, refugees must be welcomed with open hands and be provided with equal opportunities for education, work or healthcare. Though this crisis cannot be solved overnight, those in power must establish policies that benefit the affected people instead of bringing forth unequal policies for political gain.

This article exclusively represents the author’s views and research, not the position of The Youth Center for Research. YCR’s Habib University Chapter facilitated the editing of the article. However, the article is not an official reflection of the beliefs, views, and attitudes of the organization and its affiliated bodies.

About the Author: Hafsa is a Visiting Researcher at the Youth Center for Research

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Author: Hafsa Saeed

Date: 30th July 2021