Guest Columnist

The strain of a refugee crisis grows

A migrant receives medical attention from a doctor on the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in a partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, on their way to Spain, June 15, 2018. (Karpov/SOS Mediterreanee via Reuters)
A migrant receives medical attention from a doctor on the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in a partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, on their way to Spain, June 15, 2018. (Karpov/SOS Mediterreanee via Reuters)

This is a recent chapter in the refugee crisis: Three ships with 629 emigrants were found in the Mediterranean. Italy and Malta refused to accept them. The new Socialist government of Spain accepted them. The Archbishop of Valencia organized a crisis staff, which will coordinate the initial aid to these immigrants.

Not all immigrants are refugees. The final status of these 600 people is yet to be decided. But June 20, which is the World Refugee Day, calls for reflecting on the current refugee problems and possible solutions. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, a refugee is any person, who is forced to leave his/her country because of violence or persecution.

A refugee is a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, or a membership in a particular group. In addition, many people became refugees as the result of human-made or natural disasters. The criteria are not mutually exclusive: human-made, or natural disasters can result in violence, persecutions and warfare.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, by the end of 2016, there were 26.5 millions refugees in the world. This is the highest number ever seen; 51 percent of these refugees are children. In addition, there were 2.8 millions asylum-seekers, people whose refugee status was not determined. There were also 40.3 millions internally displaced people.

Activities of the U.N. Refugee agency reflect the realities of what the U.N. can do and does. The U.N. is unable to prevent wars and persecutions. But once they start, the U.N. tries to deal with their consequences.

The U.N. Refugee Agency is dealing with several emergencies caused by the internal warfare: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic, and the Rohingya emergency in Myanmar. In all of those cases, the U.N. deals with people who have been internally displaced and with refugees.

These are cold and dry facts, which conceal hundreds of thousands human tragedies. For instance, the Rohingya refugees escaped brutal murders and rapes and arrive into camps in Bangladesh sick and exhausted. We need to think about them as an example of the most vulnerable cases that the UNHCR refers for resettlement.

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All of this is costly and calls for thinking about helping refugees to resettle and to start rebuilding their lives.

The U.S. government has been the largest contributor to the UNHCR budget. Also, the United States does accept refugees and facilitates their resettlement. Some of them moved to Cedar Rapids.

In fact, President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and executive orders notwithstanding, The U.S. was on its way to reach goal established by the Obama administration: Admitting 110,000 refugees in fiscal 2017. The largest group of refugees came from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The problem is, while Trump wants to significantly cut the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., and his policy enjoys solid support among voters, the number of refugees will be increasing because of the warfare and because of climate change. This is food for thought on World Refugee Day.

• Jozef Figa of Cedar Rapids a member of the board of the Linn County United Nations Association of the USA.

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