A Home Away from Home: How India and the World Sees Refugees

Published on: 06-20-2016

Home page image: drvitelli typepad.com




June 20 has been declared World Refugees Day and UNHCR has launched the “#WithRefugees petition as the world faces a huge crisis with the UN pegging refugees at over 60 million

From time immemorial, India has been a welcoming home to refugees from all over the world. Besides, the bloody and painful days of partition, there has been a steady influx of refugees in post –independent India. Thanks to the statesmanship of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Dalai Lama and several hundreds of thousands of Tibetan Refugees have made India their home since more than fifty years.

The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, saw another major influx into the country. It was estimated that more than ten million East Bengali refugees entered India to escape mass killings and the horrors of that war. Though most returned to Bangladesh after independence, an estimated 1.5 million have continued to stay on in India.

The Soviet-Afghan war of 1979, the more than twenty-five years of civil war in Sri Lanka since 1983, the atrocities on minorities in Myanmar, have in their wake brought in huge numbers of Afghanis, Sri Lankan Tamils, Chins and Rohingyas into India.
Refugees (and other forcibly displaced persons) in India have faced many hardships in the past; but in general, there has been an attitude of acceptance.

Refugees (and other forcibly displaced persons) in India have faced many hardships in the past; but in general, there has been an attitude of acceptance. Unfortunately, with the emergence of fascist and fundamentalist forces, intolerance, xenophobia and jingoism are on the rise


Unfortunately, with the emergence of fascist and fundamentalist forces, intolerance, xenophobia and jingoism are on the rise; thanks to those who spew vitriol on ‘the outsider’, we have seen an alarming rise of attacks on Africans, on North –Easterners and others; on those who don’t ‘look like us’ or ‘behave like us’ or ‘worship like us’ and many instances of those who do NOT ‘eat or dress like us!’

These are not just small town ‘aberrations’ – but calculated crimes in our big cities, which theoretically profess diversity and pluralism. Politicians play a major role in this, as their venomous hate speeches, make people turn against the so-called ‘outsider’ and ultimately pay rich political dividends at the hustings!

On June 20, the World Refugee Day one commemorates the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees and of those who accompany them. This year a priority for the UN Refugee Agency (www.unhcr.org ) is to show leaders, politicians and bigots (particularly those who want ‘ to build walls to keep out refugees’) that citizens the world over stand with the  refugees who have to flee war and persecution  for safer havens.

The UNHCR has launched the “#WithRefugees petition to send a message to governments that they must work together and do their fair share for refugees and to

 • ensure every refugee child gets an education.
• ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
• ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.”

Less than a fifth of Iraq’s population was displaced when violence rose in 2007 and 2008. And more than 2.5 million Rwandans, or less than half of its population, were displaced during the 1994 genocide.


This is laudable; we need to join such campaigns and effort should be made at every possible level to make these pleas a reality which often fall on deaf ears. Policy makers (like those in India) pay lip service to a reality which has gripped the world as never before. True, civil society- individuals and groups- have been doing their bit; some of them even at great risk. But that is not enough! Unless there is a groundswell of positive change in attitudes and actions, pretty little may actually be realised.

According to a recently (June 2016), analysis of global refugee data published by the Pew Research Center “ the conflict in Syria has displaced millions of citizens from their homes since protests against the al-Assad government began more than five years ago.
An estimated 12.5 million Syrians are now displaced, amounting to about six-in-ten of the country’s 2011 midyear population – and up from less than 1 million in 2011.



The displacement of Syrians is unprecedented in recent history for a single country, our analysis of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data found. For example, conflicts in Afghanistan during the Soviet incursion in the 1980s resulted in about half of the country’s population being displaced within or outside its borders.
 
Less than a fifth of Iraq’s population was displaced when violence rose in 2007 and 2008. And more than 2.5 million Rwandans, or less than half of its population, were displaced during the 1994 genocide.
 
Previous estimates since 2014 have found that about half of Syria’s pre-conflict population had been displaced. That share has risen to about 60% as more than a million additional Syrians crossed international borders into neighbouring countries like Turkey or left for more distant destinations in Europe.”
 
It is a well –established fact   that most of the refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) face acute problems- which include, living in abominable conditions in make –shift housing, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, poverty, lack of employment and above all very negligible quality healthcare   and education. Besides, several local communities show reluctance to easily accept the refugees/IDPs- and impose severe restrictions on their integration

Towards the end of May, the heart-wrenching picture of   a German charity worker cradling the lifeless body of a one-month old child, would have touched many. The baby was lifted from the Mediterranean Sea, one of over a thousand refugees who were drowned in less than a week, desperately trying to flee the ravages of war in overcrowded boats! The picture also brought back painful memories of another Syrian child: three-year old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was washed up on a Turkish beach last September 2015. That painful picture made world headlines, but one is not sure if has created the impact needed to soften hardened hearts.
 
The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23rd / 24th) sought to bring the refugee crisis centre-stage, for a more concerted response as part of the Summit, the UN has launched a major campaign ‘Education cannot wait!’ stating, “one in four of the world’s school-aged children – 462 million – now live in countries affected by crisis. Of these children, 75 million are in the most desperate need of support: they are either in danger of or already missing out on their right to education. Education gives children the building blocks to rebuild their lives and, eventually, their country.” Some countries did commit to increase spending for the education of refugee children.

The UN General –Secretary Ban Ki-Moon reminds us,” refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again. On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere."

 
Once again, what is needed is the political will to ensure that these children who are marginalised have the benefits of qualitative and inclusive education, which enables their integration into the society which has now become their home.
 
In the wake of the unprecedented refugee crisis which has gripped the world (the UNHCR pegs the number of refugees as more than 60 million; and many more IDPs), we need to wake up before it’s too late. Much can be done individually and collectively; these include:

♦ to be aware that refugees are also human beings; they have their rights. They are refugees/IDPs because they have NO CHOICE.

♦ to work towards a more inclusive society, which is accepting of refugees;

♦ to do all one can to protect the rights of the refugees; particularly the protection of women and children; and that children receive inclusive and quality education

♦ to take a visible and vocal stand against xenophobia and jingoism; against those who “want to build walls to keep others out”

♦ to say “no” to fundamentalist and fascist forces who   persecute minorities forcing them to the margins (we still have thousands of Muslim IDPs who since the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 live in the squalid ‘Bombay Hotel’ area of Ahmedabad and in other ghettos)

♦ to address powerful corporate and other vested interests who profiteer after displacing thousands of tribal, poor and marginalised from their original habitat (the Narmada Dam and the selling of precious agricultural land in Gujarat are classic examples)

♦ to work for justice and peace; like doing all one can to close down the arms and ammunition industry which thrives on war. Simultaneously, to fight against the scandalous increase in military spending by countries like India 
 
The UN General –Secretary Ban Ki-Moon reminds us,” refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again. On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere."


 
स्वतंत्र स्तम्भकार. पेशे के तौर पर 35 साल से पत्रकारिता में. आठ साल तक (2004-12) टीवी टुडे नेटवर्क के चार चैनलों आज तक, हेडलाइन्स टुडे, तेज़ और दिल्ली आज तक के न्यूज़ डायरेक्टर. 1980 से 1995 तक प्रिंट पत्रकारिता में रहे और इस बीच नवभारत टाइम्स, रविवार, चौथी दुनिया में वरिष्ठ पदों पर काम किया. 13-14 साल की उम्र से किसी न किसी रूप में पत्रकारिता और लेखन में सक्रियता रही.

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