There are more refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers worldwide today than there has been since World War II. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted research and collected data from different governmental and non-governmental organizations at the end of 2013 and found that the number of forcibly displaced people was 51.2 million. The difficulties that refugees face are also increasing, as there is not enough room to house all those fleeing their countries.
The number of refugees has risen dramatically due to the uprisings and ongoing wars in different countries like Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. According to UNHCR, there were 16.7 million refugees worldwide and 33.3 million internally displaced people (those who were forced to relocate to another part of their country) as of seven months ago.
There are many reasons why someone would want to leave their own country or even move to a different part of their own country. Different factors for leaving may include war, natural disaster, political and economic turmoil and persecution for one’s beliefs or one’s identity.
According to Amnesty International, a person is considered a refugee if they have fled their country because of human rights violations suffered simply due to who he/she is or what he/she believes in. In these cases their government can no longer protect them or the government themselves are the perpetrators of violence against the group.
An asylum seeker is someone who left their country to seek protection in another country but has not been legally recognized as a refugee, therefore having no protection or rights. The process to become approved as a refugee varies. At times individuals may have to wait years to attain status and receive the rights and protection that come with the recognition.
Often times those who flee their countries may end up in refugee camps, temporary settlements made to receive those escaping their homes. These refugee camps can house thousands of refugees and are set up by the governmental organization such as the United Nations (U.N.) or an international non-governmental organization such as the Red Cross. However, those who fled to refugee camps are often subject to harsh living conditions as well and face many difficulties. Often times, these camps consist of refugees living in tents with limited resources. Food and water is unpredictable and those living in these camps usually cannot leave or find work outside of these camps. Even though camps are supposed to be temporary, some can stay for as long as 17 years due to unstable situations back home.
Harmanli camp, a former military base located in Bulgaria, is one such instance of a place where refugees are living in deplorable conditions. Eyewitness Barbora Černušáková from Amnesty International visited this camp last November and reported seeing people crammed in tents, metal containers and run-down buildings without adequate shelter from the previous cold winters. This camp, holding around 1,000 people, only had eight showers and three toilets, which many have avoided using due to filth and sanitary concerns. Asylum seekers in this camp eat food like potatoes, bread and rice.
If refugees do not settle in camps, they often attempt to flee to other countries and try to attain asylum. However, adjusting to life in a different country is also difficult and they face many unexpected hardships. There are often cultural and language barriers, as well as a feeling of alienation that occurs.
A non-profit organization called Refugee Action is helping an individual named Anthony from Eritrea to adjust and become settled in the UK. However, Anthony, only 23, is now homeless. As an asylum seeker, he has no rights because he has not been granted refugee status yet and therefore cannot work or go to school.
Those fleeing their countries face the challenge of trying to get international protection, which was illustrated by Australia’s actions this past Sunday. Australia returned 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to their country where they are in danger of persecution. The Australian Navy intercepted these individuals while they were looking to escape to Australia on their boat just off the coast of Sri Lanka. The Navy returned the refugees back to the Sri Lankan police where they face charges of illegally leaving their country, where their lives may be more difficult. The UNHCR has expressed deep concern over the actions of the Australian government.
By Joyce Chu