by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS – In an impassioned appeal to the media, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres decried the rising tide of refugees worldwide, but advised that ultimately political solutions to the crises remain the key to stem the tide creating chaotic human displacements.
While more than 65 million people around the world are victims of a score of conflicts, both humanitarian assistance and preventive diplomacy to solve these calamities are needed now.
“Now we are witnessing the largest number of refugees ever,” the Secretary General stated glumly while adding that while developed countries have carried an enormous burden to aid the ongoing humanitarian emergencies, it was largely overlooked that smaller and poorer states have carried a disproportionate burden.
Secretary General Guterres is painfully aware of this expanding crisis having served nearly a decade as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and earlier Portugal’s Prime Minister.
Sadly we know the conflicts: Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
Significantly the Secretary General stressed that countries of first asylum, namely states bordering a particular crisis, now host 80 percent of the refugees. In Lebanon one third of the population are fleeing Syrians. Turkey and the Kingdom of Jordan host huge numbers too.
In 2015, Uganda hosted a half million refugees; today the small Central African state has 1.3 million mostly from South Sudan. Kenya and Ethiopia house large numbers too from Somalia. These are societies, “that are poor, that lack resources, that have huge development gaps and huge development problems.”
Guterres is appalled that “global political populism, Xenophobia, racism in which refugees become a target.” He advised that while refugees are often accused of promoting terrorism, refugees “are the first victims of terror, they are fleeing terror; that is why they are refugees.”
The Secretary General conceded that humanitarian aid for refugees is still largely underfunded, by about 50 percent. That means the the majority of refugees are living below the poverty line and have little access to education or proper health case. Funding is desperately needed here for UN relief efforts.
Eighty percent of refugees live in the developing world, not western countries such as Canada, Germany, and the U.S. Guterres pleaded that “countries in the developed world increase their resettlement quotas” as a move towards “responsibility-sharing.”
Still the Secretary General conceded, “recognizing that there is no humanitarian solution for the refugees plight, the solution is political and it is related to the solution of the conflict that generates refugees in larger numbers.” In other words solve the crises through Antonio Guterres’s trademark policy; Preventive Diplomacy.
Yet there’s a growing an deliberate confusion between economic migrants often illegally flooding into the USA or Europe for work and genuine political refugees fleeing the horrors of war. Asylum seekers have a specific vetting and a formal acceptance process to gain Refugee status.
Both groups have been widely exploited by criminal networks of “people traffickers” and many migrants have died in the process of illegally entering Europe or the U.S.
While both groups have specific rights under international law, the Secretary General stressed, “If a refugee comes to a country, that country has the obligation to receive him. If a migrant comes to a country, the country has not the obligation to receive him.” While advocating for legal migration, “that doesn’t mean borders to be opened to everybody in all circumstances… Countries have the right to manage their borders in a responsible way” but he added, “they have the obligation to do it also in a protector-sensitive way.”
When questioned whether refugees or migrants have the responsibilities to integrate into and respect the laws of the host countries, Guterres stated emphatically, “Refugees and migrants have the obligation to respect the laws of the countries in which they are…this is absolutely crucial.”
Refugee numbers have surged. According to the UN there were 16 million in 2000, by 2015 the number had reached 20 million, and today it has now surged to 65 million people!
On the one hand the long running African conflicts such as those in the Congo, Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan continue. But let’s be painfully realistic, others such as Iraq, the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, the destabilizations in Libya and Yemen, the rise of Islamic State are all part and parcel of a churning spiral of violence in part caused by the former Obama administration’s woefully incompetent policies, destabilization or disinterest by “leading from behind.”
The global community has inherited these crises. And so what shall we now do?
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.