editorials

Time to do more to reach out to refugees

Never before have there been so many refugees — and never before has the need been so great to reach out and say ‘welcome’

Gulf News
16:48 September 17, 2016

Tomorrow, world leaders will gather in the United Nations building in New York to try and come to some sort of a resolution to solve the greatest refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Putting the issue into context, there are more than 65 million people who are living as refugees or are internally displaced because of violence and conflict. That’s a figure that’s like saying that every French man, woman and child no longer has a home. Or that one out of every 113 of us is now without a permanent home and has fled to seek refuge and shelter somewhere else.

The plight of the Syrian people, where one person in five there has become a displaced person, has added a new impetus and urgency to the chronic situation. But even then, conflicts in the Horn of Africa, in Iraq, instability in Afghanistan, the long-standing issue of Palestine, insurgencies across sub-Saharan Africa and natural disasters and long-term historical divides have meant there are more people than even before living outside their home environment in precarious or unprotected environments.

Sadly, money along is not the answer. Yes, money certainly helps to provide food and shelter, basic health facilities and a modicum of education, but funds and donors only manage to provide for so long before fatigue sets in. Even that’s a difficult concept to accept, that governments and individuals would become immune to the suffering and displacement of so many — but that is a reality from the sheer length and depth of the issue and its protracted nature.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that only 15 per cent of refugees manage to be settled in third-party countries. The fact that this figure is so low speaks to fears and biases that have been attached to refugees — that somehow they are dangers and that third-party nations need to be suspicious.

That attitude runs contrary to the very notion of reaching out to those in need.

If this gathering of world leaders is to be judged as a success in the slightest, then those ‘have’ nations must do more to open their doors to the desolate and the desperate. There is a long tradition of nations such as Canada, the United States, Sweden and Australia opening their doors to Palestinians or Vietnamese boat people.

That same sense of brotherhood and welcoming must now be extended as never before. Because never before has the need been so great.