The latest figures reveal that 82.4 million people are currently displaced from their homes – a record-high number. Of these, over 40 per cent are refugees who have fled to another country.
Meanwhile, many wealthy countries are engaged in a “race to the bottom”. One country after another is tightening its refugee policies, and displaced people are forced to make increasingly dangerous and difficult choices.
But the refugee crisis affects us all, whether we realise it or not. And the reasons for tackling it are pragmatic as well as altruistic.
“Do we want our children or ourselves to live in a world with this kind of injustice, this kind of suffering, this kind of hunger and violence?” asked Jan Egeland in a recent interview. “I think not. Because it would mean a tremendously unstable world, with pandemics and uncontrolled movement of people.”
So how do we solve the refugee crisis? Here are three things wealthy countries can do to bring about change:
1. Work together
It’s essential that wealthy countries work together to share the responsibility for protecting refugees.
Currently, a small number of countries take responsibility for most of the world’s refugees. Most countries – including some of the world’s largest economies – scarcely take in any refugees at all. Japan, for example, has received just 1,394 refugees in the last ten years.
As outlined in the preamble of the Refugee Convention, all countries should share responsibility. This includes European nations and other middle to high-income countries which must take their share and increase the number of refugees that are granted protection. The race to the bottom has to end.
2. Increase support
Wealthy nations must also increase the support and funding they provide to people in conflict-stricken countries.
Covid-19 has dealt a blow to humanitarian funding, with many countries unwilling to increase aid. Indeed, some governments such as the United Kingdom are looking to cut their humanitarian aid budgets in an attempt to save money. Meanwhile, humanitarian appeals around the world are severely underfunded and the gap between funds and needs is growing.
But the pandemic has shown that wealthy countries can find huge amounts of money to support their own economies when they need to. For just a tiny fraction of this amount, these countries
could provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection to millions of people living in conflict zones.
3. Protect asylum seekers
Finally, it’s vital that wealthy countries protect asylum seekers by not returning them to dangerous situations.
“Non-refoulement” is a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country from returning asylum seekers to a country where they would be at risk of persecution or harm. However, different governments choose to interpret this principle in different ways. Denmark, for example, has been trying to send Syrians back to Damascus for the past year on the basis that it is “safe”, despite organisations such as Amnesty International claiming otherwise.
Wealthy countries must abide by the spirit of this principle and protect those who are in need of protection.
The refugee crisis is huge, and growing. But it is also a problem created by humans. Solutions are possible. We can offer all displaced people a dignified life, if we only have the will to do so.