Refugee set, and left, adrift
The New York Times, June 2, 2012
Around the world, some 42.5 million vulnerable people were forcibly out of their homes and on the move in 2011, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There are growing concerns that those numbers will get even worse in the face of armed conflicts and political violence that are increasingly exacerbated by climate change, population growth, rising food prices, natural disasters and struggles for scarce resources. According to António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Africa and Asia are the most vulnerable regions. But new crises are appearing unpredictably — in the past year, thousands have been driven from their homes in Syria, Sudan, Mali, Yemen and Côte D’Ivoire — and will continue to grow. Since 2005, the agency’s caseload has expanded — from about 24 million, mostly internally displaced persons and refugees, to roughly 37 million at the end of 2010.
Today’s environment is also more chaotic. Instead of negotiating with governments for humanitarian access, the agency often must deal with multiple actors, including warlords and rebels and breakaway regions, even less subject to international pressure, law or shaming. The risk for aid workers and the displaced has increased. There is also a crisis of political will. The international community, preoccupied with financial and domestic crises, has been less willing to help — whether with money or diplomacy or offers of asylum. Take the 7.2 million refugees considered to be in “protracted exile,” meaning they may never go home again. The report said that everybody involved — host countries, countries of origin and donors — “seem less able to work together to find solutions.” There are no easy answers, but certain strategies stand out. In 2010, 94 percent of all resettled refugees went to just four countries: Australia, Canada, Sweden and the United States, which takes more than any other country. Surely there are scores of others that can also open their doors. Better systems for predicting crises and quickly responding to natural and man-made disasters would also help. As ever, the best solution is for the world to do a better job of pre-empting conflicts in the first place.