45 million people live on the run from war and conflict in the world. The number of people on the run is the highest since the turn of the millennium. We have to go all the way back to the 1990s, with the wars in the Balkans and the genocide in Rwanda, to find a similarly serious situation.
- Who are the refugees? Where are they fleeing to?
- What rights do people have on the run?
- Where is the line between those fleeing hostilities and others fleeing?
- What can the international community contribute?
The global conflict picture indicates that the number of people on the run will continue to increase in the coming year. Armed conflicts hit the civilian population hard. The worst refugee crisis is in and around Syria, but there will also be more conflicts in Africa. In the world’s newest state, South Sudan, a catastrophic civil war has broken out. The conflicts in the Sahel region continue, and the Central African Republic remains the world’s most underreported crisis area, along with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The number of people fleeing their own country (internally displaced persons) is twice as large as the number who have fled across a national border (refugees). This reflects the global conflict picture. Most wars take place between actors internally in states ( civil war ), and not between states. An example of this is the civil war in Syria, which has led to a massive refugee crisis. 2.6 million Syrians have become refugees and more than 6.5 million have been internally displaced.
2: Who are the refugees?
Of the 45.2 million people who are refugees or internally displaced due to war and conflict , some have recently been forced to flee. Others have been on the run for a long time or have been forced to flee repeatedly . Some groups have lived as refugees for decades.
As you read this, people – men, women and children – are fleeing conflict zones in Syria , South Sudan and the Central African Republic. They move on foot, by car or bus. Acts of war and general insecurity mean that they can no longer stay where they come from. Some move with a clear goal of where they are going, while others travel to an uncertain destination. Some will end up in refugee camps, while others will have to settle in informal settlements (under trees, in homemade tents or abandoned buildings) or in cities they come to. According to Healthknowing, CAR stands for Central African Republic.
Who are the refugees? It is estimated that 80 percent of refugees are women and children. Many have had traumatic experiences and travel with only the few belongings they can carry with them. The similarities also stop there. Refugees come from all walks of life : some have lived long in extreme poverty and war, while others come from relatively prosperous lives.
Despite the fact that the refugee situation is rarely meant to be long-lasting, there are still many groups who have lived in refugee camps for years. The prime example of this is Palestinians . A large group of Palestinians have lived as refugees in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Israel in 1948. In the Palestinian refugee camps, people are born and die as refugees. The number of Palestinian refugees is currently estimated at 5 million.
New flight and return often take place in parallel . In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Afghanistan, many are displaced again after returning home. In Congo, at least two out of three people are estimated to have fled more than once. The country is just one of several African countries with a long-running conflict where internally displaced people are in a situation as locked up as the conflict itself. A lasting solution seems unrealistic in the near future.
In several places, large groups have lived on the run for decades . These situations seldom carry the same news value as situations characterized by dramatic and rapid change. Western Sahara is an example of this. Half of Western Sahara’s population has lived as refugees in Algeria since the former Spanish colony was invaded by Morocco in 1975. There is little international political will to resolve this conflict, and the Sahrawis are likely to be refugees for a long time to come.
3: Refugee rights
Refugee law, human rights and international humanitarian law largely consist of international, legally binding regulations. They consist of both global and regional regulations.
The 1951 Refugee Convention contains the following definition of a refugee: «any person who is outside the country of which he is a citizen, due to well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or affiliation with a particular social group.” The cornerstone of all refugee protection is also enshrined in the non-refoulement principle of the Refugee Convention: This principle means that no one must be sent back to an area where life and security are in danger.
Asylum is not mentioned in the convention, but according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, everyone has the right to seek asylum. Exactly what this right entails is the subject of discussion. Those who drafted the Refugee Convention, however, called on states to cooperate and receive refugees and ensure that they are granted asylum.
Another phenomenon that has received increased attention and is often associated with internal problems and civil war, is people fleeing their own country . At any given time, there are about twice as many people fleeing their own country as there are people fleeing across borders to other countries. As they are on the run in their own country, they are not considered refugees, according to the Refugee Convention. However, they are often in a very difficult situation with similar needs as others on the run. It is also often difficult for aid organizations to reach internally displaced persons in a civil war, where preventing certain sections of the population from gaining access to emergency aid becomes a war strategy.
After active advocacy work from both individual states and humanitarian organizations, the UN guidelines for internally displaced persons were adopted in 1998. These are based, among other things, on rights identified in the Refugee Convention and international law in general. The guidelines are grouped into four main themes: non-discrimination, freedom of movement, physical security and humanitarian aid.