Reassessing the Global Refugee Crisis

James Fallow, Phillip Gordon, Nancy Lindborg, and David Miliband at “The Humanitarian Tinderbox: How Governments and NGOs Must Address the Global Aid Crisis

“Conflict is natural. The issue is how well we manage conflict and attempt to not allow it progress to violence.” – President of USIP, Nancy Lindborg

In a globalized world, it is nearly impossible to be completely insulated. There are faster planes, faster trains, and faster bandwidth. However, what has emerged, in many cases, from this over-saturation is a desensitization to the world’s atrocities. With the constant flow of information, human lives can all too easily be seen as merely statistics. For many, this was the case in regards to the crisis unfolding in the Middle East. Until one day, those same people looked outside and saw the refugee crisis storming through their computers and tv screens and onto their streets. As noted by Richard Leach, President and CEO of World Food Programs USA, during the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) event entitled The Humanitarian Tinderbox: How Governments and NGOs must address the Global Aid Crisis, the recent European refugee crisis has “transformed numbers back into human beings.”

“This is not a migrant crisis. It is a refugee crisis.” – President and CEO of International Rescue Committee, David Miliband

For far too long, the general public has ignored the cries of the refugee community displaced by current insurrections in Syria and Iraq. While the world is focused on its war with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), many have forgotten about the human faces of the conflict, those who have been displaced, tortured, and besieged by ISIS. This disparity of engagement can be seen with countries such as Turkey taking an estimated two million Syrian refugees while the United States has only resettled 1,800 Syrians over the past 4 years. The US “cannot force its way into a global leadership position by only taking this amount” (David Miliband). The issue we face today is that hundreds of millions is currently being invested militarily to combat ISIS, yet the United Nations reports that only 44% of humanitarian needs in Syria and 54%  of needs in Iraq are met. This grave error is what Nancy Lindborg calls “the failure of humanity,” and why UN President Ban Ki Moon states, “the system is not broken just broke.”

“As much as ending the war is seen as a prerequisite for the humanitarian crisis, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.” – Senior Fellow at Council of Foreign Relations, Phillip Gordon

With 60 million people displaced globally since WWII (40 million Internally Displaced Persons; 20 million refugees), the population size of displaced is equivalent to the 24th largest country in the world after Italy, and there are no signs of this number decreasing. In light of this, we must now reassess how we tackle the humanitarian issue. This is what the speakers at The Humanitarian Tinderbox emphasize, not how to get more aid but a need for paradigm shift on how we look at aid and address the crisis. Miliband provides us with three key methods for improvement: an increase in shared outcomes/targets to bind the community together, a greater focus on fragile states as opposed to just poor states, and an effort to make programs more evidence-based and Research and Development (R&D) influenced. In looking at the second point in particular, Miliband highlights an important fact: There needs to be greater emphasis on not just the countries refugees are emigrating from but the countries and communities where refugees are immigrating to. The influx of refugees can be very destabilizing to developing countries. Therefore, there needs to be greater awareness on the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), besieged persons, and their respective host communities; with children encompassing 60% of the displaced population, their specific needs must not be forgotten as well.

Currently, 38 million children in conflict zones are not receiving an education creating an increasing need for youth engagement and resilience-building in these communities.  As an IDP in a displacement camp in Iraq told Phillip Gordon, “the 7 displacement camps in Iraqi Kurdistan are merely 7 time bombs” if we fail to engage youth. This is where collaborative projects by EPIC and its partners such as TentEd comes into play. By providing displaced youth with quality education and psychosocial support, such initiatives become the “lifelines of the frontline” (Richard Leach). Likewise, projects such as Soccer Salam provides youth with an outlet for pent-up frustrations. Soccer offers displaced and besieged youth in Iraq an escape from their daily lives.

Education is a “lifeline not a luxury.” – President of USIP, Nancy Lindborg

With the end of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, the United Nations is now promoting a new global partnership known as SDG 16 or Goal 16 to better combat the global humanitarian crisis. SDG 16 focuses on the creation of peaceful and inclusive societies through good governance and rule of law. However, what is deemed as “good governance” is much debated in the International Relations field. Moreover, the new initiative is heavily contingent on power sharing between international organizations and states. If the United States is any indicator of the durability of power sharing in the international system, “sovereignty” all too often “trumps the human rights debate,” as seen in the US not ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Rome Statute (International Criminal Court). However, the beauty of living in a democratic country is that citizens have the ability to tie the hands of political officials. While the current problem may seem out of our hands, it is not out of our leaders’, and our collective voice can act as a call to action not just to the United States but the world.


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