Sunday, December 27, 2015

Displaced and forgotten

In 2015, much focus has been on Europe's migration crisis. But people are being displaced in many other corners of the world away from the media's glare. We are currently witnessing the largest and most rapid escalation ever in the number of people being forced from their homes. Millions of people are fleeing conflict. According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, this year is likely to see worldwide forced displacement exceeding 60 million for the first time. Having realised that the existing framework for addressing the record-breaking number of displaced people around the world is a disaster, the rich are ready to try anything except letting them in, of course.

Apart from Syrians, Afghan nationals comprise the largest body of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe. According to figures published by the UN, this year saw almost 190,000 Afghans reach Greece en route to other Western European countries. The significant deterioration in security following the withdrawal of international troops, economic stagnation, and extremely high youth unemployment are just some of the factors pushing Afghans to leave their country.
However, the journey through Iran, Turkey, and onwards to Europe is long and perilous, especially for the many Afghan children and teenagers who travel alone. Many experience violence at the hands of people smugglers or police, and risk drowning when attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Those who do survive face an uncertain future as they experience an increasingly unwelcomed reception in Europe.

Central Americans fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty back home endure perilous journeys through Mexico to reach safety in the US. Now they face additional hurdles as Mexican authorities implement a crackdown.
In the ‘Northern Triangle’ countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, both internal migration and migration across borders is taking place on a staggering scale. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, extreme gang violence – including rape, kidnapping, murder, extortion, land expropriation, natural resource extraction, and the illegal trade in narcotics – is resulting in mass deaths, casualties and forced displacement comparable with conflicts elsewhere in the world. For example, in 2014 in El Salvador, some five percent of the entire population was displaced.
The threat of violence – combined with poverty and high unemployment – has driven thousands of people to seek safety and security in other Latin American countries as well as in the United States. Yet on their journey to seek refuge, many people fall into the hands of human traffickers and are exploited or even murdered. Unaccompanied children – of which there were 66,000 in 2014 alone – are particularly vulnerable.
Both Mexico and the United States have increased security along their shared border and increasing numbers of Central Americans are being deported rather than being given the opportunity to apply for asylum.

The Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority group from northern and western Myanmar, are often described as the world’s most persecuted group. After years of persecution by successive governments, large-scale attacks in 2012 resulted in hundreds of deaths and forced thousands into displacement camps.
Since then, thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea, with many falling into the hands of human smuggling and trafficking rings. In early 2015, jungle prisons and mass graves containing the bodies of victims of traffickers were found, prompting Thai and Malaysian authorities to crack down on the trade in people. In May, hoping to avoid arrest, smugglers abandoned their boats, leaving at least 5,000 people adrift.
The Rohingya’s plight briefly caught the attention of the international media when Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia refused to allow the thousands of stranded refugees and migrants to land. Caving to international pressure, Malaysia and Indonesia finally agreed to accept some of the refugees for a limited time.
However, with continued anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, thousands of internally displaced people still living in dire conditions, and reports of smuggling rings resuming their trade, the Rohingya are continuing to take to the sea to flee poverty and persecution.

Nigeria has suffered decades of instability, successive military regimes and ethno-religious and regional tensions. But in recent years, the northeast has been torn apart by the fight against militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region since May 2013. The vast majority, an estimated 90 percent, end up not in camps but hustling out an existence in urban centres that are still in the conflict zone and were already very poor. Ongoing violence and counterinsurgency operations have made it impossible to deliver aid in many parts of the region. Hundreds of thousands of people remain without sufficient food, safe water, or health and education facilities. The cities and displacement camps to which villagers flee have themselves become Boko Haram targets, as have the border areas of the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This is a vast and much neglected crisis.

Gaining independence from Sudan in July 2011, South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 amid a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. Fighting between government troops and rebel groups escalated, reawakening ethnic tensions between the Dinka people and the Nuer.
Brutal and ongoing violence against civilians has killed thousands and caused widespread displacement. By the time an internationally-mediated peace deal was signed in August this year, more than 2.2 million people had fled their homes, with 1.6 million displaced internally and over 600,000 forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
Food security has deteriorated at an alarming rate, with 3.9 million people now facing severe hunger. In October, three UN agencies warned that 30,000 people in Unity State were on the brink of famine. Without access to markets, jobs, basic services or social mechanisms, those displaced are particularly vulnerable. Even for thousands sheltering inside UN camps, there is little access to food, water and medical care and facilities are hugely overcrowded.

The poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen has endured years of instability and poor governance. After the 2011 revolution toppled president Ali Abdullah Saleh after more than 30 years in power, new president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was sworn in with international backing – but was never able to fully establish authority. Yemen descended into civil war in September 2014 when the Houthis – supported by Saleh – seized power, prompting Saudi Arabia to launch coalition airstrikes against the rebels in March this year.
The Saudi-led bombardments and fighting between competing forces on the ground has resulted in massive injury, loss of life, and damage to infrastructure, and has also triggered large-scale displacement. According to the UN's emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, as of mid-December the conflict had displaced 2.5 million people. Blockades at key ports earlier this year led to major fuel and food shortages, while damage to infrastructure and ongoing fighting continues to hamper delivery of aid, especially to the most vulnerable displaced communities. By August, more than 100,000 arrivals from Yemen had also been reported in countries in the Middle East, as well as in the east and Horn of Africa.

Almost a year-and-a-half of war, has displaced more than 1.4 million people and left hospitals in frontline areas short of essential supplies, while the elderly and the sick struggle to get by as they can’t access pensions or services provided by the Western-backed Ukrainian government. Many have been relying on aid from the Russian side or from a Ukrainian oligarch. UNICEF estimates that 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk and 200,000 children are more vulnerable to death or injury due to restrictions on landmine education. Some 500,000 children up to 10 years of age urgently need polio vaccination in rebel-held areas, and many of the 8,000 tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS patients will die unless medicine is provided, the UN agency said.

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