Endless Wars and the Ever Escalating ‘Global’ Refugee Crisis

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When the UNHCR released its 2015 Global Trends Report: World at War, the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, stated, “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”[1] Worldwide displacement was the highest ever recorded at 59.5 million people.[2] Some 19.5 million were refugees, 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum.[3] Astonishingly, more than half of the world’s refugees are children.[4] Then, as anticipated, the UNHCR’s 2016 Global Trends Report was even worse indicating that there were now 65.3 million people who were displaced due to war and persecution.[5] This was nearly six million more people who were displaced due to the protracted and, seemingly, never ending conflicts in different parts of the world.

It is not surprising to find then that half of the world’s refugees, coming under the UNHCR’s mandate, are from only three countries: Syria (6.6 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million).[6] All of these countries have been embroiled in wars and protracted armed conflicts for years and with no end in sight. The Syrian civil war started in March 2011 with pro-democracy protests that were suppressed harshly by the Bashar al-Assad regime and that have resulted in over 250,000 deaths and more than 11 million displaced from their homes.[7] The wars in Afghanistan have been ongoing for decades and the current conflagration can be traced to the 1978 Saur Revolution that sought to implement a socialist agenda.[8] According to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs’s “Costs of War” website, there have been 104,000 people killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and more than 31,000 of these have been civilians.[9] Likewise, Somalia has suffered from decades of warfare that date from the overthrow of the Muhammad Said Barre regime in 1991, “and turmoil, factional fighting and anarchy ensued.”[10] One estimate of the death toll in Somalia since 1991 stands at 350,000 to 1 million Somalis who have died as a result of the conflict.[11] The estimates of the numbers that have been killed in Syria over the last five and a half years, however, have made it one of the deadliest protracted intrastate conflicts in the world today.[12] Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of refugee producing countries in the world today due to decades of protracted armed conflicts and war. The present deteriorating situation of endless warfare and ever increasing forced displacement cannot be, nor should it be, any longer tolerated. It affects all of us, directly or indirectly, in some shape or form, irrespective of where we happen to live on earth.

The UNHCR points to protracted internal armed conflict as the principal driver of forced displacement over the last five years and underscores the point that these conflicts appear to be lasting for decades. UNHCR notes that new and reignited conflicts are evident in South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine, Central African Republic and in Central America, due, in this instance, primarily to gang violence.[13] As a corollary, finding constructive ways forward to peaceful solutions to these protract wars and armed conflicts have not been forthcoming. In fact, Antonio Guterres, stated that this was one of the key difficulties as the ever escalating global refugee crisis that seems to be beyond our collective capacity to address in any effective manner. “It is terrifying,” Guterres asserts, “that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there a is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,”[14] This is a devastating critique of the present state of the world, where the international community is allowing the present devastation to life and property to continue unabated and for decades on end. And, those who are impacted the most are our children, who now make up 51 percent of the world’s refugees.[15] How can we allow this to continue? There is a moral imperative for all of us, as the UNHCR calls for, to take “bold action now.”

This can only happen if all us are prepared to commit ourselves to demand that our State and our international organizations, including the United Nations and its agencies, such as the UNHCR, UNICEF, ILO, UNESCO, World Bank, to double their efforts to seek an end to the death and destruction that is a consequence of the 40 wars that are currently raging in the world today.[16] If we only managed to bring peace to three of the most devastating and protracted, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, we will have solved more than half of the world’s forcibly displaced populations. A committed, insistent and demanding anti-war and peace movement united with the global refugee advocacy and service communities is the only “real” and lasting durable solution to world’s present ‘global refugee crisis.’

Refugees and other forcibly displaced persons are not the only “casualties of war” in the world today. All of us are impacted by wars and the sooner we come to realize that we all suffer as a consequence, admittedly, of course, not more than those who are directly affected be the conflict, the sooner we will be able to address seriously the root causes of forced displacement. A global consciousness raising campaign is but the first step. The incessant demand for States and our international organizations to take collective “bold action” is necessary and essential and this will only come about when a galvanized anti-war and peace movement, the refugee advocacy and service community and other humanitarian organizations unite in demanding that such action be taken immediately to change these endless wars that lead inevitably to ever escalating mass forced displacements.[17] It must begin with a deep personal commitment on each of our part that these immoral circumstances and the tragedy of extreme violence can no longer be tolerated and with our clear and resonant collective demand for genuine change for a socially just and peaceful world.

[1] UNHCR, “Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase: One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.” News & Stories, News, 18 June 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2015/6/558193896/worldwide-displacement-hits-all-time-high-war-persecution-increase.html. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Adrian Edwards, “Global forced displacement hits record high: UNHCR Global Trends Report finds 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015,” UNHCR, News & Stories, News, 20 June 2016, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/6/5763b65a4/global-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[6] Ibid.

[7] BBC News, “Syria: The story of the conflict,” 11 March 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868. [accessed 17 August 2016] Others have estimated that death tolls to be much higher. For instance, I AM SYRIA, puts the death count at 450,000, with 50,000 being children. See I AM SYRIA, Death Tolls, http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[8] Peace Direct, Insight in Conflict, “Afghanistan: Conflict Profile,” https://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/afghanistan/conflict-profile/.  [accessed 17 August 2016]

[9] Brown University, Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Costs of War, “Afghan Civilians,” http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians/afghan. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[10] GlobalSecurity.org, Military, Somali Civil War, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/somalia.htm. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[11] Ibid.

[12] Christian Storm, “The World’s 15 Worst War Zones,” Business Insider, Military and Defence, March 20, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-worlds-worst-war-zones-2015-3. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[13] Adrian Edwards, “Global forced displacement hits record high: UNHCR Global Trends Report finds 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015,” UNHCR, News & Stories, News, 20 June 2016, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/6/5763b65a4/global-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[14] UNHCR, “Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase: One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.” News & Stories, News, 18 June 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2015/6/558193896/worldwide-displacement-hits-all-time-high-war-persecution-increase.html. [accessed 17 August 2016]

[15] UNHCR, Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2015, Geneva, 2016, p. 3. http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/576408cd7/unhcr-global-trends-2015.html. [accessed 17 August 2016] In fact, 80 percent of the world’s refugees are women and children and youth. Women’s Refugee Commission, Children and Youth,.  https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:_oqyJGyYrGAJ:https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/youth/763-girlsstories+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca. [accessed 17 August 2016] See also Refugee Girls: The Invisible Faces of War. Women’s Refugee Commission, 2009. https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/images/stories/ref_girls_FINAL.pdf [accessed 17 August 2016]

[16] Uppsala University, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) Armed Conflict in 2014, http://www.pcr.uu.se/. [accessed 17 August 2016]. Wherein it lists one Interstate Conflict, 26 Intrastate Conflicts, and 13 Internationalized Intrastate Conflicts.

[17] James C. Simeon, “Fleeing from War,” Peace Magazine, July-September 2016, pp. 22-23. Wherein I argue: “If torture, persecution, and the death penalty can be banned by the international community and states, then why should war not also be considered a violation of international law? Armed conflicts create the conditions for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” – both of which are serious breaches of international law. Why, then, should we not include war and armed conflict in these categories?”

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