As 2016 drew to a close, the number of refugees and displaced people in the world reached historic levels. The year ahead seems to promise more of the same with conflicts and crises continuing in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Somalia, and beyond.
It may be the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Almost every day for the last four months, an average of 2,000 South Sudanese refugees have made their way to neighboring Uganda. They come on buses and on foot, along dirt roads and through the bush. Day after day more arrive, with no end to the exodus in sight.
In 2016, the world witnessed a global refugee crisis of historic proportions, with the number of refugees and displaced people reaching 65 million world-wide – the largest number since World War II. Whether addressing the needs of those displaced by war, climate change, or ethnic- or gender-based violence, RI traveled to Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America to bear witness to these crises and raise the voices of world’s most vulnerable peoples.
For many refugees in Turkey, the struggle to keep warm is a daily battle. Some refugees said they received a small amount of coal from the government, but that it is not enough. Others said they received no assistance of any kind at all.
After 50 years of brutal war, the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army is cause to celebrate.
Nations will soon meet in Marrakesh to discuss progress on the landmark UN Climate Change Agreement reached in Paris last year. On the agenda will be the increasing impacts of climate change on displacement and migration, including a decision to establish a “Climate Displacement Task Force.”
Friends of Refugees International convened for the 14th Annual New York Circle on November 1, 2016. RI President Michel Gabaudan discussed the current state of refugees around the world, and Fatima Muriel de Florez described her inspiring story as a displaced woman and women's rights activist in Colombia.
We were in the Petra camp, where 1,200 Yazidi asylum-seekers are living in truly shocking conditions. It was set up by the Greek government in April on the site of an old psychiatric hospital.
During the annual May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences low-level flooding, which creates favourable conditions for rice cultivation, Myanmar’s leading crop. However, in July 2015, heavier than normal downpours combined with the arrival of Cyclone Komen created unprecedented flash floods, general flooding, and landslides, a national disaster that affected 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. An estimated 1.6 million people were displaced and more than 20 percent of Myanmar’s cultivated land was damaged.
In September, Refugees International returned to some of the hardest hit areas in Rakhine State, Sagaing Region, and Chin State to see how communities were recovering a year after the flooding.
In July 2015, unprecedented monsoon rains, fueled by a tropical cyclone, caused flash floods that washed away San San Aye’s former home, along with 83 others in her village. More than one and half million people across the country were displaced in the disaster.
More than one hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in recent years. In May 2015, thousands were abandoned on boats on the Andaman Sea, after the discovery of mass graves in human trafficking camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border led to a crackdown on human traffickers. The primary desired destination for the Rohingya refugees has been Malaysia, where tens of thousands live unrecognized as refugees at risk of exploitation and in constant fear of detention. Their lives are generally better than in the home country they fled, but still far too vulnerable.
While anticipation of the Mosul offensive continues to build – along with concern about the consequent displacement that could overwhelm nearby areas – the reality is that Mosul’s military offensive and displacement crisis started some time ago. In the past several months, more than 100,000 people have fled the areas around Qayyara and Shirqat, two towns taken by Iraqi fighting forces as part of the military approach to Mosul itself.
At its height in mid-2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) controlled more than 40 percent of Iraq. Now, a counter-offensive by the Iraqi Army, pro-government militias, and allied nations has pushed ISIS out of many areas it once held. This has given a glimmer of hope to Iraq’s 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs): after years of exile, they have a chance to return home. Refugees International visited a town in Anbar province where returning families spoke about the challenges of rebuilding their homes, their lives, and their community.
Refugees International (RI) was just on the ground in Malaysia exploring conditions for several Rohingya communities who are among the tens of thousands who have fled persecution in Myanmar in recent years. Their journeys were often more horrific than the conditions from which they fled and their lives in Malaysia are only better in relative terms. The truth of this reality is starkly illuminated in the story of two sisters, Amina and Khadija.*
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has never been an easy place to live. Stretching for miles and across arid land in Kenya’s underdeveloped northeast region, Dadaab is home to several hundred thousand refugees, primarily from Somalia, who are seeking refuge from war and hunger in their home country. Dadaab’s residents subside on monthly food rations, struggle to find work among limited opportunities, and face restrictive Kenyan policies that prevent the establishment of anything resembling permanent infrastructure.
Kisimayo, the capital of the southern-most province of Somalia, was recovered from the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in 2012 by Kenyan and Somali troops. With the change of control, the local government is now actively trying to set up a functioning administration. Yet a mere 10 to 15 km from the city, areas are still under control of the same terrorist group from which many refugees fled in the past decade. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I recently visited Kisimayo to see how the Somali refugees returning from Kenya’s Dadaab camp are faring.
On May 6th, the Kenyan government announced plans to close the Dadaab refugee camp, home to several hundred thousand Somali refugees, by the end of this year. Since December 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supported by donor governments, has facilitated the return of 28,000 refugees from Dadaab to Somalia. However, with Kenya’s push to close Dadaab, the voluntary nature of the returns has been called into question.
On August 24, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) came to a peace agreement after negotiations that lasted nearly five years. It is hoped that the peace deal will mark an end to some of the bloodshed from battles between the government, paramilitaries, and FARC guerrillas.
As President Obama welcomes Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to the United States this week and celebrates her country’s democratic reforms, Refugees International will be traveling to Southeast Asia to meet with a population that is not welcome in her country: the Rohingya.