The United Nations reported on 20 June that the number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015.
According to the latest figures released by the UN, the number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015. The UN has indicated that counting Earth’s population at 7.349 billion, one out of every 113 people on the planet is now either internally displaced or a refugee. The agency has disclosed that they now number more than the populations of Britain or France, adding that it is “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.”
While displacement figures have been rising since the mid 1990s, the rate of increase has jumped since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Of the planet’s 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country while 21.3 million have fled across the borders and are now refuges. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million. This includes those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
While Europe’s high-profile migrant crisis is the worst since World War II, it is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans. Globally, approaching one percent of humanity has been forced to flee. The UN refugee agency has disclosed that “this is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.”
The figures, which were released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures that are fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis. According to UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, as conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the will to resettle refugees, adding that “the willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today.”
A mixture of a number of factors have led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee settlement. The agency has disclosed that “situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer,” including more than thirty years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan. The UNHCR also indicated that news and intense conflicts as well as dormant crises that have been “reignited” are further fuelling the crisis, pointing to South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, and the Central African Republic, side form Syria. The UNHCR also indicated that beyond the refugee hotspots in the Middle East and in Africa, there were also worrying signs in Central America, where growing numbers of people fleeing gang violence led to a 17 percent rise in those leaving their homes through 2015.
On Friday 6 May, the Kenyan government announced that refugees from Somalia will no longer be accepted in Kenya, citing security fears.
According to a statement that was signed by interior ministry official Karanja Kibicho, “the Government of the Republic of Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement further indicated that under the directive, newly-arrived asylum seekers will not automatically receive refugee status and the government will step up efforts to have those who are already living in the country removed. Mwende Njoka, interior ministry spokesman, disclosed that “the message is clear, we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country,” adding that new regulations were aimed at refugees from Somalia but that those from other countries may also be affected, noting “the problematic ones are the Somalis. They’re the ones we’re starting with.” Kenya hosts around 550,000 refugees in two camps in Kakuma and Dadaab, the world’s largest, many of whom have fled decades of war in neighboring Somalia. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somali, along with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a so-called tripartite agreement, which was aimed at encouraging Somali refugees to return home voluntarily. However since then, only a few thousand have taken up the offer, which has left Kenya frustrated at the slowness. According to Kibicho, “Kenya has been forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees and the process of repatriation,” adding that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which s responsible for refugee registration and management, had been “disbanded.” However a DRA employee reached by phone at work on Friday afternoon expressed surprise, stating that he knew nothing of the directive.
Government and security officials regularly asset that Islamic militants from al-Shabaab thrive and recruit among Somali refugees. These claims however have been denied by independent observers and by the refugees themselves who point out that many of them have fled al-Shabaab’s depredations. Following deadly al-Shabaab assaults on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre and Garissa university, senior officials threated to close Dadaab camp and remove the refugees. In April 2015, just days after that attack in Garissa, Deputy President William Ruto promised to close Dadaab “in three months,” however that deadline, like the previous ones. Friday’s statement again conflated refugees and terrorists emphasizing, “the immense security challenges such as threat of the Shebaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya. New arrivals from Somalia will no longer receive ‘prima facie’ refugee status but will have to argue their cases individually. However the agency that has been tasked with processing those applications, the DRA, is to be shut down.
On Monday 9 May, the United Nations warned that Kenya’s decision to stop hosting refugees could have “devastating consequences” for hundreds of thousands of people. It has urged the country with the world’s largest refugee camp to reconsider the move. The UN agency has voiced alarm at the announcement, warning against “the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have. A statement released by UNHCR disclosed that “the safety of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, South Sudanese and others has (long) hinged on Kenya’s generosity and its willingness to be a leading beacon in the region for international protection,” adding, “tragically, the situations in Somali and South Sudan that cause people to flee are still unresolved.” UNHCR has appealed to Kenya to continue hosting the refugees, warning that it risked worsening the current global refugee crisis if it did not. In its statement, the agency reported that “in today’s global context of some 60 million people forcibly displaced, it is more important than ever that international asylum obligations prevail and are properly supported, “adding, “in light of this, and because of the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have, UNHCR is calling on the government of Kenya to reconsider its decision.” A group of charities working in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya added their voices on Tuesday to those calling on Nairobi to reconsider a decision to stop hosting Somali refugees. The eleven charities described the Kenyan government’s decision to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps as “unfortunate, adding, “the recent announcement will have far reaching implications for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge.” The eleven non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which together provide basic services including healthcare and clean water in the two camps, acknowledged Kenya’s burden in hosting refugees from around the region, however they urged the government not to implement its ne plan. The NGOs, which include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that closing the camps “violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation” and puts the refugees at risk, many of them women and children. Despite fears raised by aid agencies, human rights group sand the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Kenya has insisted that it will go ahead with the plan however no timeline has been released.
On Wednesday 11 May, the interior minister announced that Kenya is drawing up a timetable to close Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts about 350,000 Somalis, because of security concerns. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, the country has set up a taskforce to handle the closure plan. Speaking at a news conference, the minister disclosed that “they will present the timetable based on all the resources required,” adding that state funds had been allocated in order to proceed with the programme. He also disclosed that “the government has commenced the exercise of closing the complex of Dadaab refugee camp,” without specifying what new action had ben taken beyond a voluntary repatriation programme that is already in place.
Over the past several years, Greece has been increasingly strained by the tens of thousands of migrants reaching its shores. Perhaps more than ever before, Greece could potentially be close to the breaking point. Starting in Sweden and Denmark, governments across Europe have imposed new border restrictions, inadvertently creating a chain-reaction. In mid and late-January, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia announced new restrictions on migrants. Several governments, including Austria, are developing plans to cap the total number of migrants. Almost all the countries recently imposing border restrictions are focusing on original country of origin. The asylum process will increasingly prioritize migrants from conflict areas, particularly Syria. Over this past fall and winter, Macedonia has repeatedly closed important crossings at the Greek border with no warning. One closure on 21 January, for example, resulted in a backlog that took multiple days to clear. When such closures occur, many migrants are left without adequate food or shelter, creating a stressful situation that often results in violence.
The Wall Street Journal has quoted a confidential Bank of Greece report, which estimates the Greek Government could spend 600 million Euros in 2016 assisting migrants. The migrant-related costs could potentially reach 0.3% of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product. The operation of migrant reception centres could constitute 35% of the total cost, followed by search and rescue efforts 26%. Since the beginning of January, the UNHCR has reported that over 74,000 migrants have reached Greece alone. Over the course of 2015, over 821,000 migrants reached Greece, the vast majority doing so in small boats. Greek officials and international observers are expressing concerns that Greece will have to support tens of thousands more migrants in 2016 if border restrictions further north remain in effect. The European Agenda on Migration had been intended to ease the migrant-related pressures faced by the Italian and Greek governments. However, the European Commission announced on 10 February that only 218 migrants had been relocated from Greece. Only 15 European Member-States agreed to participate, providing a total of 1081 places (far below the 66,400 target).
As spring starts to approach, the total number of migrants attempting to reach Europe is anticipated to increase once again. As the European Union struggles to develop a coordinated approach, Greece will remain at the forefront of the migration crisis. Even with European Union and NATO support, it may well be unable to sustain tens of thousands more migrants, especially if many of them cannot travel further into Europe.
Thousands of Syrians, mostly women and children, remain stuck at Turkish borders after fleeing offensive in Aleppo. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, on the 9th of February 2016 called on Turkey to admit all civilians who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection. Tens of thousands of Syrians escaped intense air strikes in the northern province of Aleppo. Recent months have been dominated by intensive Russian air strikes and attacks on civilians have become a near-everyday occurrence. At least 500 reported killed in the province this month.
Turkey has already taken in more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees over the past five years hosting the largest number of refugees in the world. Its borders are considered the gateway to safety, leaving many stranded across them. The Turkish government has recently expressed frustration over the worsening migrant crisis saying that it has now reached the end of its “capacity to absorb”. Turkey applies strict controls on admission of refugees while maintaining an open door policy for those fleeing immediate harm to their lives.
The United Nations’ refugee agency has called on Turkey to open the border to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing a government offensive in Aleppo province, who are stranded near the Bab al-Salameh crossing. According to UN officials half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, often multiple times, making Syria the largest displacement crisis globally. More than a quarter million Syrians lost their lives since the onset of the crisis in 2011. Protests escalated into civil war and the armed rebellion led to the rise of Islamists and jihadists, the so-called Islamic State, whose brutal tactics caused global outrage.
Today UK, U.S and Russia are leading air strikes in order to regain rebel parts of the country. Situation is worsening following the intensified Russian air operation in the province of Aleppo, an area divided between government and rebel control for years. Moreover according to ICRC the harshening of winter is pushing people’s resilience to the limits.
The United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs from March 2012 until February 2016 registered a total of 13.5M Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance; 4.6M fled the country and 6.6M have been displaced within the borders due to violence. Internally displaced the population struggles to survive and they are chasing after charities. The displacement of refugees is across several neighbour countries and Europe.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu attended the Informal Meeting of EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs on the 6th of February 2016. The prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus envisaged a further 600,000 refugees at the borders raising criticism on the Russian tactics. European member states requested immediate steps from Ankara to improve the situation for refugees in Turkey deploying without delay the €3 billion pledged by the European Union.
Turkey is currently under pressure to allow in 30,000 Syrian refugees stranded on its border. Migrants have inflicted a “huge strain” on the country’s economy, and called on the international community to assist Ankara in handling the burgeoning crisis. The main route from the north into Aleppo has been cut off and humanitarian aid cannot be efficiently delivered. The current situation is leading to a severe geopolitical turmoil.
Turkey is facing multiple problems and an internal division. The Russian power play in Syria vanished Turkish hopes for instituting a no-fly zone on the other side of the Syrian border and as Syria burns, Turkey’s Kurdish problem is getting worse. There is an increasing concern that the PYD’s success in Syria will dangerously strengthen the PKK in its fight against Turkey.
The Assad regime received support on the ground by the Iranian militias and the intensified Russian aerial bombardment led the United States to lose control over the entire operation. Within the next weeks the Assad’s bombing campaign will continue costing the lives of many other civilians.
The likelihood of Aleppo becoming the “Sarajevo” of Syria is increasing on a daily basis.
On 19 August, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria published a video called “Message to America,” which showed the gruesome and tragic beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley. The group has threatened the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, who is also being held in Syria if the Obama administration does not stop airstrikes against ISIS strongholds. The speaker in the video of Foley’s execution appeared to have a British accent.
A day before the video of Foley’s execution was released; ISIS released another video directed toward America. The video, “A message from ISIS to US”, states “We will drown all of you in blood.” It goes on to warn that ISIS “will attack Americans anywhere if U.S. airstrikes hit Islamic State militants.” The video shows footage of US military vehicles being targeted by IEDs, and images believed to depict the mass execution of Iraqi troops. Shortly after the US announced airstrikes on ISIS targets in early August, ISIS took to social media to call on sleeper cells to attack US interests around the world.
The US initiated limited airstrikes against ISIS targets two weeks ago, following the capture of Mosul Dam and the mass evacuation of Yazidi Iraqis in Northern Iraq. ISIS has reportedly kidnapped and killed hundreds of Yazidis, and has threatened to kill thousands more. The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Yazidis into Mount Sinjar escalates Iraq’s appalling humanitarian crises at the hands of ISIS. Nearly 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced in 2014. Obama has called ISIS “a threat to all Iraqis and the entire region.”
The video depicting Foley’s execution was released a day after Kurdish troops, with the aid of US air strikes, wrested control of Mosul Dam, which had been captured by ISIS in early August. Mosul Dam holds back approximately 11 billion cubic metres of water. In ISIS hands, the dam could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, with the ability to flood Mosul and nearby cities, reaching as far as Baghdad. The structure is intact, now protected by Kurdish forces. Small skirmishes still continue in the area.
ISIS fighters have fallen back on Tikrit, which has been under the militant group’s control for over two months despite multiple attempts by Iraqi forces to retake the city. The repeated failed offensives against ISIS in Tikrit reveal the poor condition of the Iraqi military. ISIS has a firm stronghold on the city; meanwhile, at estimates show that at least seven of Iraq’s 16 army divisions have been rendered ineffective since the start of 2014.
The videos released by ISIS have not slowed US intentions to continue airstrikes in ISIS controlled areas. President Obama has not issued a timeframe for the campaign against ISIS; the US air forces have bombed at least 90 targets, including ISIS vehicle convoys, mobile artillery and fixed positions. The bulk of airstrikes have occurred over the past few days near Mosul dam. Other strikes have been near the Kurdish capital, Ebril, where ISIS forces were attempting to advance; and Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidi population evacuated after ISIS displaced them from their homes.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a massive aid operation to reach over half a million people displaced by the fighting in northern Iraq. Aid will be sent to Iraqis through Jordan via air, Turkey via road, and Dubai and Iran via sea. The US, UK and other nations have air dropped food and water in the past weeks; the UNHCR airlift of supplies via Jordan will begin today.