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World Refugee Day: Fixating on symptoms, but ignoring causes

World Refugee Day: Fixating on symptoms, but ignoring causes

Today, World Refugee Day, is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees.

It should also serve to raise awareness of the state of our modern world.

Since the Second World War ended in 1945, humankind has made significant progress in every respect, except one: we have signally failed to provide adequate protection to the most vulnerable of the world’s citizens. In this most critical area, we have at best been treading water, and arguably have regressed. The evidence is stark.

More than 70 years since 1945, and there are an estimated 60 million people around the world that have been forcibly displaced from their homes, 51 per cent of them children. This despite, during the intervening decades, numerous international leaders and august institutions making countless grand gestures, declarations and resolutions on human rights and the responsibilities of governments. Fine words and international laws are all very well, but on their own, in the absence of robust and stringently enforced mechanisms of accountability, they count for nothing. That most of the world’s refugees have fled for their lives from those that govern them is proof of that.

"What use, for instance, have international laws been to the people of Syria?"

For more than five years, the Syrian government (and its allies) has prosecuted a war against its own citizens, without any meaningful sanction from the international community. As a result, around 350,000 deaths later, Syria has produced a staggering 4.2 million refugees, more than 20% of the country’s pre-war population, another 6-8 million people have been forcibly displaced within the country. Yet, aside from the occasion condemnatory statement, the rest of the world has done nothing of note. It was only when Syria’s neighbours became saturated with refugees, and the overspill began to reach Europe’s shores, that those from outside the region sat up and took notice. Even then, the reaction was essentially selfish – the primary objective being to ensure that Europe’s borders remained closed to the refugees.

Of course we need to manage refugee situations, but unless the root causes behind people fleeing their homelands are addressed, the numbers will continue to swell. It is an avoidance of the real issues to treat refugees as a stand-alone problem, as though refugees are somehow at fault for the situation they find themselves in. And while there are those that sympathise in an abstract sense with refugees, too many adopt a not-in-my-backyard attitude when the reality threatens to encroach upon the relative safety and comfort of their own world.

It cannot be said often enough that refugees do not choose to leave their homes and homelands. Invariably they are fleeing war, persecution, or a natural disaster.
Until a greater global effort is made to bring wars to an end, and to tackle religious, ethnic and tribal persecution wherever they occur, there will be no end to innocent victims fleeing for their lives. Let us hope, against all evidence, that the international community will eventually rouse itself to try bring about the circumstances where there will be no more need for a World Refugee Day. As things stand at the moment, we are fixating on symptoms, but ignoring causes.

By David Adams of GOAL

GOAL is providing aid to refugees and displaced people in Syria, South Sudan, Turkey, Sudan, Ethiopia and many other countries.

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