"The past year has been a busy one for all of us working to protect refugees and displaced, but I am afraid that the year to come will be even more challenging," says Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Still, he remains an optimist and continues believing in the good of people.
Looking back on the last 12 months, he describes the state of aid at the end of 2016:
"I would say that aid is struggling at the end of 2016. We have failed too many. But we have also been a lifeline to more people than probably any time before in human history. We are now providing relief as humanitarians to tens of million of people."
The Norwegian Refugee Council alone reached between 5 and 6 million people.
"More refugees than there are inhabitants in the Kingdom of Norway were reached. So we have to really understand that there were too many we could neither protect nor assist. But we also must remember that we were able to save a lot of people. That is one of the things I will carry with me into 2017," says Egeland.
Egeland believes the same disastrous and comprehensive crises that we have experienced in 2016 will continue making headlines and keeping humanitarian workers busy in the year to come. He refers to a list of ten countries that will have the biggest needs for humanitarian aid in 2017, published by The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) in Geneva.
The ten countries are: Afghanistan, Central African Republic (CAR), The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Crises lining up
The wars in Syria and Iraq will continue to create enormous humanitarian suffering in 2017. Egeland is also concerned about three countries heading in the wrong direction.
"Beyond Syria and Iraq that are full blown wars with a lot of attention, I am worried about the following three countries: Yemen, that may fall in into the abyss of famine. A kind of biblical famine that we have not seen for many, many years," says Egeland.
Nigeria is the second case of a looming disaster, and Egeland explains: "This is because so many people are not receiving assistance, because there are too little resources in north-eastern Nigeria, where so many millions have been hit by terror and conflict, and there is so little access for humanitarians that are on the ground."
He continues: "The third crisis is South Sudan, where this colossal failure by the men with power has led to one civil war after the other. This is really tearing this young nation to pieces, and making it impossible for humanitarians to do our jobs. All of these are all manmade crisis from A to Z. Man can change it in 2017, for the better."
Although the number of migrants and refugees that have crossed into Europe by sea has decreased from more than one million in 2015 to less than 360,000 in 2017, there has been an increase in number of diseased. In 2015, one in 267 people died during the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. In 2016, one in 73 people have lost their lives when making the same journey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Egeland thinks the fact that people are still not able to cross the Mediterranean safely, will make the headlines in 2017 as well.
"We will continue to have the massive loss of life in our own sea, our own ocean, the Mediterranean. I hope that the Europeans will come together and say we cannot continue like now. We have to do more in assistance to people who are in harms way, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Yemen and in all of the other places, so that they don’t have to flee. We will have to make safe ways for those who will still seek asylum in Europe. And we have to invest more in hope to all of the tens of millions of refugees in Europe’s neighbourhood. I hope that will be the headline for 2017."
A clear message
The six richest countries in the world host less than 9 percent of refugees. Egeland has a clear message to the leaders of the world’s richest countries:
"I think that the world’s richest countries, and also the whole host of second richest countries, must understand how unbalanced the responsibilities and the burdens of the international community would be, when tiny, poor Lebanon hosts more refugees than most big and rich countries" he says.
According to Egeland, they then should understand that they have to do three things:
"First, invest much more in the ability to assist and protect refugees as close as possible to their homes. Second, enable us to prepare refugees with education, vocational training and other assistance, to return where it is possible. Third, receive refugees to your countries, through a quota system and through asylum seeking. How come we let so many people be trapped within Syria, or within the neighbouring countries, some of them filled to the brim. It will only harvest hopelessness."
Egeland thinks we should not be overwhelmed by all the crises and says that all people can do something to help.
"Ordinary people can help us help refugees and displaced people to help themselves, by becoming regular sponsors of our work. A small sum every single month like I do myself, my mother, my sister, my brother does. It helps us provide education to children, which means hope not only for the child, but for her parents and grandparents as well. It means that there is hope for communities to rebuild and return. We need funding and we need support from ordinary people. In the political debate there is too much xenophobia, there is too much nationalism, there is too much inwards looking."
Even with so many atrocities happening in the world today, Egeland still believes in the good of people.
"I believe in the good of people because every single day I see courageous humanitarian field workers in NRC and in all of the other organisations, risking their lives, taking all of their energy with them, to help people them themselves. I also see the energy, the resourcefulness, of the people we assist. They are like you and me. They want to return to their lives. They just need temporary help from us to return to their lives. It is within our means to help them. That gives me hope for the good in mankind that we have to many sponsors that help us help so many people," he ends.