WHAT ARE REFUGEES?
Refugees, migrants, immigrants are all terms thrown around in the mass media, with varying opinions about what they truly mean. Debates surrounding the legitimacy of the rights of refugees to mobility across borders. If your country is in a state of war, do you have the right to leave? Do states have a responsibility to let refugees into their borders? As states and governments become increasingly connected with the rise of globalization, coupled with increased conflicts and natural disasters that produce more displaced individuals, it’s clear that discourse surrounding refugees is here to stay.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, refugees are defined as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Issues like war and conflict, environmental crises like tsunamis and hurricanes, and ethnic and cultural violence drive people away from their homes and countries. However, those experiencing conflict in their countries do not always leave their borders but are forced to relocate to other parts of the country. These people are known as Internally displaced people. The majority of refugees come from five countries, Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Venezuela, and Afghanistan. Most Internally Displaced Peoples are found in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria. Around 1% of the world’s population is displaced, and refugee children are over five times likely to not be in school.
It is important to note that refugees are forced to leave their homelands or countries of residence. No one wishes to have their homes destroyed by war or be victims of ethnic or cultural violence. Generally speaking, there are five categories of refugees: war and violence, climate change, political, religious, social, racial, political persecution, gender, sexual violence, and hunger.
WHAT RIGHTS DO REFUGEES HAVE?
Refugees are entitled to international protection. International protection is outlined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. It states that countries have a responsibility to protect their citizens. When they no longer do, and their citizens face violence or persecution, another country has to step in to protect them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights works together with international humanitarian law and international refugee law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees serves as a safeguard for the 1951 Refugee Convention. In the Convention, refugees should not be forced to return to the countries they are fleeing from.
SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS
Since the genesis of the Syrian Civil War during the Arab Spring, there have been countless deaths and increased violence and refugee populations. Millions of Syrians remain displaced within their borders and across the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The COVID-19 pandemic has further raised tensions as there isn’t much infrastructure or systems for vaccination or limiting the spread. Many European nations refuse to let Syrian refugees into their borders or force them to live in refugee camps in dehumanizing conditions. As Syrian refugees set sail on the Mediterranean with hopes of landing in Europe, where they won’t have to face violence by either government, coalition, or ISIS forces, many drown because of the weakness of their refugee boats. They are desperate for freedom and escaping violence, so they take on these perilous journeys across the sea. Those who survive and land enter refugee camps mainly distributed with expired food due to lack of supply, no tents for sleeping, and no medical or educational facilities. Not to mention the racism and xenophobia those who can enter the European Union face.
No one decides to be a refugee. No one wishes to uproot their lives and leave behind their families, culture, language, and homes, but they are forced to. What we CAN do is have empathy, and remember our shared humanity. Without upholding refugee rights, we have no “universal” human rights.