The number of people forced to flee their homes due to war, violence or persecution is at its highest level since records began. The conflict in Syria has been a major factor in this increase, but people have also fled other conflicts including in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. In total, more than 65 million people have fled their homes – 40.8 million within their own country, 21.3 million as refugees and 3.2 million awaiting asylum decisions in industrialized countries.
The responsibility for providing refugees with shelter, food and health care, as well as jobs and education, is falling disproportionately on poorer countries, which are often struggling to meet the needs of their own people or are at risk of compromising their own stability.
The world’s 6 richest countries, host 8.88% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers. Among these countries Germany alone hosts over 736,000 people, while the US, UK, France, China and Japan are hosting the remaining 1.4 million between them.In sharp contrast, half the world’s refugees and asylum seekers – almost 12 million people – are hosted by Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon and S. Africa, whose economies collectively account for less than 2% of the world’s total.
As revealed by ongoing Oxfam research some governments have not only given their ‘fair share’ of aid for those whose lives have been blighted by Syria’s terrible conflict, but also welcomed their fair share of Syrian refugees to their countries. But that is the honourable exception to 2016’s far wider, more dangerous trend of governments turning their backs on the world’s most vulnerable people and failing to uphold the spirit of the international law they claim to champion. And not all governments that have welcomed large numbers of refugees in the past are willing to continue doing so or to uphold the right to claim asylum.
While some richer countries have provided some refugees with a new start, the number of people they have welcomed in this way is extremely small compared to the numbers of refugees hosted by other countries. In 2015, the six richest countries resettled just 57,167 people, less than 6% of the 960,00014 men, women and children around the world in desperate need of resettlement that year.
There are other ways rich countries can welcome more refugees and ensure they do not have to embark on life threatening journeys to seek safety.
Governments can make it easier for refugee families to reunite in their country or offer humanitarian visas allowing refugees to travel safely to apply for asylum. None of these measures should ever be used as a way to undermine the right of people who have travelled outside of these routes to claim asylum in a country. The right to claim asylum – that is, the right to seek protection from persecution – is a core tenet of international refugee law that must be upheld.
World leaders must heed those messages of solidarity and support, as they plan to meet in two months’ time at two important summits in New York. On 19 September, UN Member States will come together for the first UN Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. The following day, US President Barack Obama is inviting all world leaders to tackle the refugee challenge. World leaders must not miss these opportunities to help millions of people fleeing conflict, disaster and poverty.
Ahead of the summits, Oxfam is calling on:
• Wealthy countries to welcome more of the world’s refugees and to substantially increase their support for middle- and low-income countries that are hosting the majority of people forced to flee.
• All countries hosting people forced to flee, including refugees and people forced to flee within their own country, to provide the help and protection they need, ensure access to education, and allow them to work.
• All countries to uphold the human rights of all people on the move irrespective of their legal status.
Photo Cover Credits: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images