UN report draws grim picture of global refugee situation

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Migrants on the Austrian side of the border with Hungary on Sept. 11, 2015. (AFP)
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A Palestinian woman holds her refugee ration card. (Reuters)
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A Syrian child rests in a tent at a camp for internally displaced persons in Syria’s Idlib province on June 4, 2019. (AFP)
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w right: A Venezuelan woman takes care of her baby at a shelter in northern Brazil in March 2019. (UNHCR)
Updated 22 June 2019

UN report draws grim picture of global refugee situation

  • UNHCR is marking World Refugee Day with events to raise awareness about global displacement
  • Venezuela joined a long list of countries gripped by refugee crisis in 2018

ABU DHABI:  The year leading up to June 20, World Refugee Day, has been marked mostly by negative long-term trends, according to the latest annual Global Trends report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The year saw an increase in the number of displaced people and the emergence of new refugee crises, of which Venezuela was the largest and most alarming.

Almost 70.8 million people are currently experiencing forced displacement worldwide, according to the report, double the level 20 years ago and 2.3 million more than a year ago. The UNHCR says the figure of 70.8 million is conservative.


70.8 MILLION • People experiencing forced displacement worldwide.

41.3 MILLION • People recorded as internally displaced as of December 2018.

20.4 MILLION • Refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate as of December 2018.

13.6 MILLION • People newly displaced worldwide in 2018

13 MILLION • Size of forcibly displaced population of Syrians

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who came to the job after helming the UNHCR for 10 years, has appealed for greater global solidarity to confront the mounting crisis.

According to Global Trends data, by the end of 2018 the number of refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate had reached 20.4 million, nearly double the figure in 2012. Some 13.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution in 2018.

At 1,560,800, Ethiopians made up the largest newly displaced population, 98 percent of them within their country. Meanwhile, some 4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015.

The unchanging trend of 2018 has been refugees’ country of origin, with 67 percent of them from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. At the end of 2018, Syrians continued to be the largest forcibly displaced population, with 13 million people displaced.

“What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees.

International days such as World Refugee Day are occasions to educate people on issues of concern, mobilize political will and resources to address global challenges and, in the UN’s words, “to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.”

The existence of international days predates the creation of the UN, but its agencies have increasingly adopted the concept as an advocacy tool.

Accordingly, World Refugee Day honors refugees’ strength and courage, encourages support for them, and strives to raise public awareness of their situation. This year, the focus is on the personal and the local, with individual stories being used by the UNHCR to put a human face to refugee numbers and statistics. To this end, the UNHCR has organized a number of events in Gulf countries that are open to the public.

Children in a makeshift refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

In Kuwait, a film on refugees will be screened in addition to a photo exhibition on the same topic.

Also, a partnership between the UNHCR and Al-Hamra Business Tower and Luxury Center will see the facade of Kuwait’s highest skyscraper turn blue in solidarity with refugees.

In Saudi Arabia, the UNHCR and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) are organizing special events on the weekends of June 21-22 and 28-29 at Riyadh Park Mall and Jeddah’s Read Sea Mall.

Besides a photo exhibition and a display of UNHCR tent and relief items, there will be a booth where people can register online to offer their support for refugees.

In the UAE, the UNHCR is organizing a full-day event to mark World Refugee Day on the campus of New York University Abu Dhabi, featuring a 12-hour indoor relay race in support of the #StepWithRefugees campaign.

The target is to reach 409 km in honor of Eva, a 9-year-old refugee who covered that distance in 12 days while fleeing from South Sudan to Ethiopia. Additionally, the documentaries “Desperate Journeys” and “4.1 Miles” will be screened.

The UNHCR’s website is also carrying stories of hope and inspiration, highlighting the positive impact that individuals and organizations can make on the lives of refugees. A case in point is a football camp being conducted in Uganda by coaches from the Italian football club Sampdoria. Youths from refugee and host communities are taking part in the three-day training program.

Coaches Marco Bracco and Roberto Morosini said they want to offer hope and show their solidarity with young football lovers.

“Refugees face a lot of problems, so maybe for three days they can focus only on football,” Bracco said. “It was our little dream, and now we are here and we are very happy.”

One of the program’s participants is 14-year-old Patrick Amba, whose family fled South Sudan three years ago. They walked for days until they found safety across the border in Uganda, which hosts more than 1 million refugees, most of them from South Sudan. “When I play football, I am happy,” said Amba. “I feel like I am an important member of the community, and I can share my ideas.”

Another account is of the kindness many Venezuelans fleeing their country have experienced in neighboring Colombia.

Among the 1.3 million Venezuelans who have found safety across the border are 140,000 who arrived in 2018 in Riohacha, a small city in a strained and impoverished region where they struggle to find shelter and food. Grandpa’s House, a care center that used to host seniors who had been left alone, has increased its capacity in response to the influx.

The UNHCR report describes the effect of the Venezuelans’ arrival on 75-year-old Morato Martinez, a Colombian who spends his days painting the walls of Grandpa’s House. One of his latest murals depicts a couple of grandparents holding hands. It reads: “Grandparents are people full of love.”

Martinez said: “This painting had only an abstract meaning until we met the families from Venezuela. Now it has a real meaning.”

The uplifting accounts from Uganda and Colombia form the backdrop to Grandi’s observation that “while language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees.”

In fact, despite the negative trends, the global refugee situation in 2018 saw some positive developments, including enhancement of regional response plans.

For instance, as a follow-up to the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) was formally adopted at the UN General Assembly on Dec. 17, 2018.

The comprehensive approach to specific refugee situations, as highlighted by the GCR, emphasizes the importance of national and regional arrangements.

The recommended responses include galvanizing political commitment, facilitating sustained engagement of development actors in support of host communities, and supporting comprehensive policy initiatives that seek to ease pressure on host countries and encourage self-reliance.

As Grandi said, in an effort to counter superficial narratives being used by populist politicians to foster opposition to refugees, “we must build on positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”


Taliban ‘ready to fight’ if US unwilling to talk

Updated 15 September 2019

Taliban ‘ready to fight’ if US unwilling to talk

  • A member of a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow said the group would be interested in resuming dialogue if the US also showed interest

KABUL: The Taliban is ready to fight for “100 years” if the US is unwilling to revive peace talks, one of its representatives warned, days after President Donald Trump announced that negotiations with the militant group were over.

Talks to end the 18-year conflict screeched to a halt after Trump said he had canceled an unprecedented meeting with the group’s representatives at Camp David, and said the peace process was over after a US soldier was killed in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan.

His remarkable tweets caused chaos and confusion in diplomatic circles. The tweets also caused alarm among those engaged in or following the already-fraught peace process.

A member of a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow said the group would be interested in resuming dialogue if the US also showed interest, but he also issued a warning.

“We are still committed, we want peace in Afghanistan, we want to give a safe passage for the foreign troops to go from Afghanistan,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai told Russian TV station RT. “If the American side is not willing (for) negotiations … we will be compelled to defend ourselves even if it continues for 100 years.” 

Abbas has taken part in at least nine rounds of talks with US diplomats in Qatar since last year. He accused Trump of not signing a treaty with the Taliban because the group had refused to meet him before it signed an agreement.

He said the Taliban had agreed to allow for the safe passage of US troops and to enforce a truce in areas from where the US planned to withdraw. The Taliban was also planning to meet the Afghan side on Sept. 23 to discuss a nationwide cease-fire and the political setup of a future government, he added.

Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, tweeted that Abbas’ remarks showed the group remained uninterested in talks.

“This time the Taliban raised their voice from Moscow and say that (they) will continue in (the) killing of Afghans; the Afghan security forces are waiting for you.”

Russia is one of the regional powers to have forged closer ties with its former foe, the Taliban, which has made gains in Afghanistan despite an increased presence of US troops. The Taliban and Russia both want a complete withdrawal of US-led forces from the country.


Talks to end the 18-year conflict screeched to a halt after Trump said he had canceled an unprecedented meeting with the group’s representatives at Camp David, and said the peace process was over after a US soldier was killed in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Arab News the group would explain its position to “friends and allies about (Trump’s) unexpected, abrupt and unjustified” cancelation of peace talks.

He added that the group could meet officials of several countries “who were also astonished by Trump’s decision” since the agreement was achieved after nearly a year of negotiations.

Waheed Mozhdah, a political analyst who knows the Taliban leaders, said the Moscow trip was part of a campaign to show the insurgents were keen to negotiate even if the US was not.

“The Taliban will have similar trips to other countries, such as China, Iran and elsewhere to say that they are ready to sign a peace deal with the Americans,” he told Arab News. “These trips will have an impact because the Taliban will argue that if Washington does not want to sign a deal, then it has other agendas, to remain in Afghanistan and cause danger for the region.”

He said the US had two options. The first was to step up the war against the Taliban, which it had done previously to little effect, and the second was to resume talks.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former diplomat, told Arab News the Moscow trip and visits within the region would also be fruitful for the start of an Afghan intra-dialogue. He said the Taliban’s move was part of its “increasing political activities and to show that if the US ceases talks, then it is after other powers to work for a peace plan.”