The ‘World Disaster Report’ from the International Red Cross Federation has just come out and its figures for 2011 make grim reading.
Last year the report focused on hunger and malnutrition, but this year’s headline number of more than 72 million is striking: that is the number of people who had to leave their homes in a year of displacements and forced evictions around the world.
The figure translates into more than one person in every 100 on the planet forced from their homes or countries. There are several causes: war, like in Syria, from where 100,000 people have fled, mostly to Turkey, or natural disasters.
The journeys these people have to make are often dangerous and difficult, sometime life-threatening, and once the journey is over conditions in refugee camps are more often than not squalid, unhealthy, and uncertain. For many of the world’s displaced people, some 14 percent, no end to their torment or return is in sight.
That is the case for many Burmese refugees, especially the ethnic Kachins. They are caught in a trap between Myanmar and China. They fled a little-reported conflict between Kachin rebels and the Myanmar army in June 2011. They found refuge in China, but now Beijing wants to send them back into a war zone.
These refugees can be closer to home, of course, as the Greeks, Italians and Spanish can testify as their shores attract migrants from Africa and the subcontinent in large numbers. Rich Europe struggles to cope, so what is it like elsewhere? The Red Cross makes it clear that this is a global crisis that needs a global response.
The Red Cross annual ‘World Disasters Report’ is edited by Roger Zetter. Euronews’ Chris Cummins asked Zetter why the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has decided to highlight this particular issue?
*Roger Zetter:* “It really is, I think a recognition that something in the order of 73 million people are forcibly displaced by conflict by natural disasters, by development processes and alongside that are issues of vulnerability, rising protection needs and also the increasing complexity of forced migration.”
*euronews:* “In your report you mention the growing resistance of politicians to support those forcibly displaced. Yet 164 governments have signed up to a resolution ensuring that migrants, irrespective of their legal status, are treated with respect and dignity. Clearly these resolutions are being ignored. Why is that ?”
*Roger Zetter:* “I think the global concerns about security and the economic crisis globally has obviously made it difficult for politicians and perhaps makes politicians more reluctant to articulate the case for forced migrants and refugees in particular.”
*euronews:* “So for a lot these vulnerable people it is a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ Hostile host communities feel under threat and fragile governments simply don’t have the resources to care for the sudden influx of people. What action can be taken to bring about a change in attitudes towards displaced persons?”
*Roger Zetter:* “The reality is that refugees consume resources. They need building materials for their homes, they need food, they need other consumer commodities albeit at a basic level and all these consumption patterns are important ways in which a local economy can be stimulated. Farms can produce more food and local contractors and building supplies can increase production and output.”
*euronews:* “Obviously we have got this terrible conflict in Syria, but I would like to speak about the Sahel region. It is growing ever more serious by the day, violence, famine, drought bringing about the forced migration of tens of thousands of migrants in extremely difficult situations. How do you think the international community is responding to the catastrophe?”
*Roger Zetter:* “I think the international community has indeed been slow to respond for a variety of reasons. I guess from a global point of view it is not such a pressing political international issue as obviously large scale displacement in the Middle East. I think at an international level it doesn’t hit the international agenda in the same way.”
*euronews:* “Still people continue to die. But coming closer to home now, across Europe we are seeing Governments cut budgets in this new age of austerity, and again it is the very poor who suffer most. Is the financial insecurity hindering the ability of organisations like the Red Cross to operate effectively in these difficult areas?”
*Roger Zetter:* “I think the answer has to be yes at a general level, not just the Red Cross of course, but I think across the whole humanitarian sector, but at the same time I think one has to look at the response and the adaptation of organisations themselves facing static or even reducing budgets. One can see for example with the federation’s national societies, for example promoting much stronger policies of resilience of communities that are becoming vulnerable to situations of conflict or famine or disaster. There is a greater emphasis on preparedness, so that when disasters strike communities are perhaps less vulnerable to forced migration.“