Monday, January 30, 2023

2022 Year in Review: 100 million displaced, a record that should never have been set

2022 Year in Review: 100 million displaced, ‘a record that should never have been set’

The 100 million figure, which includes those fleeing conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution, was announced by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in May and described by Filippo Grandi, the head of the agency, as “a record that should never have been set”.

The figure is up from some 90 million in 2021. Outbreaks of violence, or protracted conflicts, were key migration factors in many parts of the world, including Ukraine, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Syria, and Myanmar.

Thousands of desperate migrants looked to Europe as a preferred destination, putting their lives in the hands of human traffickers, and setting off on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.

All too often these journeys ended in tragedy.

An IOM worker distributes aid kits to newly displaced communities in Ma’rib, Yemen

Worsening conditions for migrants in Yemen

It has now been more than seven years since the protracted conflict began in Yemen, between a Saudi-led pro-Government coalition and Houthi rebels, together with their allies. It precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe, and has forced more than 4.3 million people to leave their homes.

In May, The UN migration agency IOM and the European Union’s Humanitarian Aid wing (ECHO), announced that they were scaling up efforts to respond to the needs of more than 325,000 displaced by the conflict, including migrants and the communities that host them.

“The situation is also getting worse for migrants in Yemen, especially women, who are living in dire conditions in Yemen with little control over their lives,” said Christa Rottensteiner, Chief of the IOM Mission in the country.

Despite the dire situation in Yemen, it remains a destination and transit point for migrants leaving countries in the Horn of Africa.

Upon arrival, travellers face perilous journeys, with many heading north, en route to Gulf countries in search of work.

They are often forced to journey across local frontlines, at risk of suffering grave human rights violations, such as detention, inhumane conditions, exploitation, and forced transfers.

A family living in an informal settlement in Raqqa city, northeast Syria.

Little prospect of safe return to Syria

In Syria, war has now been upending lives for 11 years: nearly five million children born in Syria have never known the country at peace.

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More than 80,000 Syrians call the huge Za’atari camp, in Jordan, home: many of them may have to remain outside of their country for the foreseeable future.

“Prospects for return for the time being do not look promising”, said Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR Representative in the Jordanian capital Amman, in July. “We are not seeing an environment in Syria that would be conducive to returns.”

Overall, Jordan hosts around 675,000 registered refugees from Syria, and most of them live in its towns and villages among local communities: only 17 per cent live in the two main refugee camps, Za’atari and Azraq.

Rohingya continue to flee Myanmar

More than five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar, after a military campaign of persecution. Almost a million live in the vast Cox’s Bazar camp across the border in neighbouring Bangladesh.

In March, the UN launched its latest response plan, calling for more than $881 million for the refugees, and neighbouring communities (more than half a million Bangladeshis), who are also highly reliant on aid.

This year, Rohingya continued to leave Myanmar, many attempting to cross the Andaman Sea, one of the deadliest water crossings in the world.

When more than a dozen migrants, including children, reportedly died at sea off the coast of Myanmar in May, Indrika Ratwatte, the UN refugee agency’s Asia and Pacific Director, said the tragedy demonstrated the sense of desperation being felt by Rohingya still in the country.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine, a man places his hand to the window of a train car

‘Double standard’ in treatment of Ukraine refugees

10 months on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February, and seems likely to continue into 2023, UN refugee agency figures show that, by December, more than 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees had been recorded across Europe.

Soon after the conflict began, UN agencies mobilized to provide support. UNHCR coordinated the refugee response together with sister UN agencies and partners, in support of national authorities.

In neighbouring Poland, for example, staff supported the authorities with registering refugees and providing them with accommodation and assistance. 

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Filippo Grandi praised European countries for their willingness to take in Ukrainians, the majority of whom sought shelter in neighbouring countries, but expressed his sorrow for the country and its citizens.

‘Ripped apart’

“Families have been senselessly ripped apart. Tragically, unless the war is stopped, the same will be true for many more,” he said.

However, this generosity of spirit was not always in evidence, when it came to some members of minority communities. In March, Mr. Grandi spoke out the discrimination, racism, and violence they faced.

Speaking on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr. Grandi said that the UN refugee agency had born witness “to the ugly reality, that some Black and Brown people fleeing Ukraine – and other wars and conflicts around the world – have not received the same treatment as Ukrainian refugees”.

Mr. Grandi’s concerns were echoed, in July, by González Morales, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. Mr. Morales alleged that there was a double standard in the way that refugees are treated in Poland and Belarus, particularly when it comes to people of African descent, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

‘Desperate situation’ in Ethiopian camps

In Ethiopia, millions remain displaced due to the armed conflict in the Tigray region, which began on 3 November 2020 between Ethiopian national forces, Eritrean troops, Amhara forces and other militias on one side, and forces loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation front on the other.

By the end of this year, a fragile internationally-brokered truce seemed to be holding with aid returning to embattled northern regions inaccessible for months, along with many returning home to rebuild their shattered lives.

Back in January, the UN refugee agency issued the stark warning that, due to deteriorating conditions, refugees in the region were struggling to get enough food, medicine, and clean water, and risked death unless the situation improved.

“The desperate situation in these camps is a stark example of the impact of the lack of access and supplies affecting millions of displaced persons and other civilians throughout the region,” said UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov.

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Refugees also found themselves under direct attack: in February, for example, thousands of Eritreans were forced to flee a camp in the Afar region, after armed men stormed in, stealing belongings and killing residents.

By August, UN agencies put out an urgent appeal for funding to help more than 750,000 people seeking refuge in Ethiopia. The World Food Programme warned that, unless it received the funding, many refugees would have nothing to eat.

African migrants wait to be rescued by the Sea Watch vessel, in Libya

Thousands die attempting to reach Europe by boat

The number of people who died or went missing trying to reach Europe by boat doubled between 2022 and 2021, to more than 3,000. This grim statistic was released by the UNHCR in April.

 “Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats – many of which capsized or were deflated leading to loss of life,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

This did not deter many from putting themselves at considerable risk, by trying a sea crossing. In just one attempt, in March, at least 70 migrants were reported dead or missing off the coast of Libya, the departure point for many crossings.

In August, when a boat sank off the Greek island of Karpathos in August, there were dozens of reported deaths, and in September, more than 70 bodies were recovered following a shipwreck off the coast of Syria.

Hope for a brighter future?

Amid the tragedy and difficulties faced by so many, there was at least one ray of light, reported in December.

UNHCR declared that governments around the world had pledged some $1.13 billion, a record amount, to provide a lifeline to people displaced by war, violence, and human rights violations.

“As a result of conflict, the climate emergency, and other crises, displaced people around the world face unprecedented needs,” said Mr. Grandi. “Fortunately, UNHCR’s generous donors continue to support them during these dire days, creating hope for a brighter future.”

(The credit for all the inputs for this story goes to United Nations.)

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