Guest Opinion: What turns millions into refugees?
A United Nations Global Trends survey released Monday reported that the world reached in 2015 an all-new high in refugees and internally displaced persons, a total of 65 million, with another 19 million forced to move by natural disasters.
The first costs are humanitarian. Half of the refugees are children; 100,000 of those children have fled alone, presenting unique problems. Few of them are receiving schooling. The financial costs of dealing with those fleeing, internally or outside their countries of origin, have far surpassed the willingness and ability of donor countries to cope with the problem they present.
Finally, the problem is political. Migration into Europe, from both the east through Turkey and Greece and south across the Mediterranean, is testing severely the willingness of European populations to absorb refugees. Governments led by people such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel may wish to keep their countries’ doors open, but not necessarily at the price of losing their own jobs at the polls to xenophobic, resistant opponents.
Immigration is certainly an issue in the referendum to be held today in the United Kingdom on whether to stay or leave the European Union. One member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered last week; her views favoring immigration and remaining in the EU were certainly one stimulant to her assassin.
An aspect of the refugee problem that is frequently overlooked can be identified by looking at the countries of origin of the refugees and the internally displaced. They are mostly coming from countries where long-standing wars rage — Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The big powers, such as the United States, have failed abysmally to end the wars and to bring peace to these countries, the necessary ingredient to ending the flight of people from them.
It’s worse than that. The United States is and has been an active participant in the wars in these countries, in effect playing a role in precipitating the flight of refugees from them. The burden for not bringing these wars to an end does not land, in any case, on the United States. America is being very slow to bring in even the 10,000 Syrians the administration of President Barack Obama agreed to take. Most of the refugees have ended up, for the time being anyway, in nearby poor and middle-income countries such as Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey alone has 3.5 million.
The matter will be addressed once more at the U.N. General Assembly in September. Obama could do worse than use whatever punch he still retains to end a war or two, in the process relieving the misery of the refugees and pressure they are causing.