Copyright 2011, UNHCR
As the world celebrates yet another Refugee Day it is important that we remind ourselves that the number of people being forcibly displaced across borders as well as within their own countries is once again increasing. For a short few years it seemed as if the number of refugees was coming down and being overtaken by the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) who do not get a chance to get across borders. Today, however, the picture is one of more and more people fleeing across borders as well as within their own borders.
Refugees and IDPs are people who are suddenly cut off from friends and relatives, and what are often called “significant others.” They lose their personal belongings, and the homes and local industries they have invested in and developed over the years. They typically lose whatever national identity papers they had and become stateless. Most of all, they often lose hope and are thrust into settings and situations where they gradually lose all sense of self-esteem and personal value. Generations of people are being born and brought up in refugee and IDP camps where they take on the debilitating refugee mentality and identity.
Today’s refugees and IDPs are no longer as welcome as the ones who moved around Europe after the Second World War or even as recently as the Bosnian War. States that previously opened their arms to refugees now impose time-consuming and psychologically stressful administrative procedures that further worsen the sense of loss and fragility.
Ironically, all refugee and IDP populations contain within them people of talent and creativity, people whom societies everywhere, including their own, would benefit tremendously from. To be sure not all of them are going to be Einstein’s, but many of them could contribute to the social and economic development of the countries they are fleeing from and the countries they are fleeing to.
Hopefully Refugee Day 2012 will be a day of introspection by politicians and the public alike. The xenophobia that has been used and played with by all too many populists must be counter-acted and a better appreciation of what it is that refugees and IDPs go through must be fostered. Countries should begin developing the type of policies and programs that would make the most of the presence of refugees and IDPs while at the same time respecting their civil and human rights and making sure they enjoy the benefits that all human beings merit. The right to health, the right to education, the right to shelter, and the right to food are rights that need to promoted and protected everywhere and by everyone. We need to remember that we could all be made refugees some day.