UNDERSTANDING REFUGEES - WHO IS A REFUGEE? WHY ARE PEOPLE REFUGEES?
A refugee is a person who flees his country for safety or survival. People are refugees for various reasons. Reasons for fleeing one's country and becoming a refugee include war and civil war, genocide, natural disasters like drought, abuses of human rights, opposing the government, ethnic cleansing, economic crisis and having no homeland. There is a difference between asylum seeker, internally displaced person and economic migrant.
Asylum seeker...is a person who seeks a safe place in the country they've arrived in: "When we were fleeing the war in Libya, I got separated from my husband. He reached the border with Tunisia but it was too dangerous for me to travel by land and too dangerous to stay. I fled by boat." Rachel, 25
Internally displaced person... moves within the same country. At least 6.6 million people have moved within Syria between 2011-2016.
Economic migrant... is a person who moved to another country to work, possibly coming from a poor background: "I had been homeless and unemployed in Mexico since I left school. I entered the USA illegally in 2001 and found work as a caretaker of an office block." Felipe, 22.
Sometimes, people who are not technically refugees, but cannot be sent back to their country are given a lower level of protection called subsidiary protection.
Why are refugees not welcomed?
Refugees are rarely welcomed because immigrants are blamed for taking the jobs of the locals. But how true is this especially in some European countries which have an ageing population? Nigel Harris, Professor of Urban Economics at the University College London said that "An increase in workers usually expands the economy and so increases the jobs available for native workers... that is why a million Cubans lifted the economy of Miami and a million French colonists returning from Algeria(1962) lifted the south of France."
If refugees are welcomed, will they come in larger numbers?
The greatest number of refugees are in the poorest regions of the world. The European Union hosts only 6% of the world's refugee population, according to the UNHCR.
How To Help Refugees
Have a welcoming attitude
Pope Francis said that "Refugees are people like everyone else" and that some of the conditions where refugees live are intolerable. Having a welcoming attitude helps refugees feel more accepted. Persons are never "burdens" or "statistics". They are people.
Inform yourself that the messages you are getting are correct
Check reliable sources like the Jesuit Refugee Service or the UNHCR. Most prejudices are based on misinformation.
Make friends with a refugee
Make friends with refugees in your neighbourhood, at school or in your church. Help them in small practical ways like learning your language, listening to their story or supporting them in their material needs.
Speak up in favour of truth
When you hear or read racist comments, express your opinion and raise awareness prudently but assertively.
Support refugees through volunteering
If you are available you can volunteer with NGOs who work with refugees who help them to integrate in society.
Closing the rich-poor divide
On a larger scale if we work towards a more just society, conflicts will decrease leading to less refugees. The gap between the rich poor countries has been getting wider since mid 1970s with transnational companies making it difficult for small producers to survive.
Pray for refugees
For those forced to abandon their homes; for their continued hope and for their safety.
REFUGEES ALONG THE YEARS
2016 - Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia are the top three countries where most refugees come from.
2015 - Venezuela closes borders with Columbia after three Venezuelan soldiers are shot and injured on the Venezuela-Columbia birder. Thousands of Columbians living in Venezuela leave the country.
2011 - Syria anti-government demonstrations begin causing millions of Syrians to flee as refugees in other countries.
2000 - Zimbabweans who oppose anti-democratic leader Robert Mugabe flee abroad.
1994 - Rwanda. Genocide. 2 million Rwandans leave their homeland.
1991 - Yugoslavia collapses. In 1999 a peace plan for Kosovo was agreed. 820,000 Kosovan Albanian refugees return home by the end of the year.
1990s - Kurds from northern Iraq end up us as refugees. Kurds today have no homeland. They are spread in other countries. In some countries like Turkey, they are not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture.
1990s - Sierra Leone is invaded by neighbouring Liberia causing a million people to be uprooted in the following three years.
1990 - Mynamar. Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders are sent to prison for opposing the government.
1980s - Ethiopia. In 1980 many Ethiopians fled to Somalia to avoid fighting. In 1984 a famine led to a further exodus from Ethiopia.
1980s - Conflicts in Africa, Asia, Central America. The largest number of refugees being from Afghanistan.
1979 - Afghanistan plagued by war. Today Afghan refugees live mostly in Iran and Pakistan.
1971 - Bangladesh war and conflicts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam create more refugees.
1960s-70s African countries against European rulers. Algeria experienced one of the bloodiest conflicts with many Algerians fleeing to Morocco and Tunisia.
1956 - Hungary. A crushed uprising against the communist government causes 200,000 refugees to flee for safety.
1956 - Sudan gained independence. Civil war and fighting has been going on and off between the richer Muslim Arabs from the North against the black Africans of the poorer South. More than 4 million people have moved to another part of the country and some fled as refugees.
1948 - Israel-Palestine. The conflict between the two countries created thousands of refugees and displaced people which are still displaced today.
1947 - India - Pakistan. In nineteenth century India, the British rulers favoured Hindus over the Muslims. This kind of policy led to conflicts, which later caused waves of refugees.
1940s - World War Two - About 60 million people where forced to leave their home amid the death and destruction caused by the Second World War.
Article compiled by Universe of Faith
- Why are People Refugees?, Cath Senker, UK, 2007.
- Jesuit Refugee Service Malta
Published: 27th September 2016