Last week, I was profoundly puzzled to see, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, world leaders (especially those representing superpowers) vigorously debate how to find a lasting solution to refugees and migrants crisis while paying less attention to the root causes.
All 193 UN member states adopted key commitments to enhance protection for millions of people who have been forcibly displaced and are on the move around the world.
In a joint statement following the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, they noted, “we have come together in support for the millions of refugees and other persons who have been forcibly displaced from their homes around the world.
“...Majority of them are women and children, who are often at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. At a time when global response mechanisms have been strained past their limits by displacement levels not seen since the Second World War, it is incumbent upon the international community to act.”
In the same communiqué, the world leaders pledged to “increase international humanitarian assistance funding, offer opportunities for refugee resettlement and alternative forms of legal admissions, and facilitate refugees’ access to education and lawful employment”.
After going over the whole text, two questions spontaneously sprung to my mind. Why do world leaders focus much attention on treating the symptoms (fleeing) of refugees and migrants, instead of diagnosing the root causes and treating them? Would treatment of symptoms be a holistic remedy?
My view isn’t contemptuous of addressing the fleeing refugees and migrants, because they obviously desperately need help which countries have committed to.
As a matter of international law [the 1951 Geneva Convention], particularly for refugees, persons fleeing war or war-related conditions, such as ethnic, tribal or religious violence, and whose state is unwilling or unable to protect them, should be considered as refugees.
And they are thus entitled to the same rights and basic help as any other foreigner who is a legal resident. More importantly, this protection is firmly cemented in the principle of non-refoulement which protects against returning persons to a country of origin where they’re likely to face persecution or danger.
Similarly, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants recognises the obligation incumbent upon states to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale.
More precisely, this Declaration requires states to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions.
My concerns hinge particularly on the less attention given to the root causes of refugees and migrants. If such causes are treated subserviently the problem will be more and more intractable as years pass by.
Statistically, today, the biggest number of refugees and migrants originate from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia etc, due to bloody wars in their countries.
Back to the first question, clearly the superpowers aren’t genuinely doing enough to end these constant wars. Just most recently, virtually all EU member states have been complaining of a massive influx of Syrian refugees that entered Europe, with most of them scrambling to go to Germany and Scandinavian countries. But none of the countries has openly criticised Russia and the US for being the troublemakers of the refugee-migrant crisis.
Yet, these are the key players. As noted above, the discussions on the problems of refugees and migrants centred on tackling the symptoms rather than the underlying causes, hence world leaders yet again missed an opportunity to find a sustainable solution. And yet, neither Russia nor the US can afford to back down on their support for opposing parties in Syria.
In any event, the superpowers are largely responsible for the refugee-migrant crisis. Just a simple example is the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973 that authorised NATO airstrikes in Libya in 2011, eventually significantly increasing the number refugees and migrants fleeing the country.
Today, Libya has more or less become a limping or failed state. Surprisingly, in October 2015, UN Security Council, in its binding resolution 2240 (2015), decided to authorise Member States to seize vessels that were confirmed as being used for migrant smuggling of humans from Libya.
So, what caused that migration? The answer is insecurity that emanated from NATO military strikes.
In truth, the major root cause of refugees and migrants on move is war. This is indisputably true. However, there are other war-related conditions, such as ethnic, tribal or religious violence, economic hardship, which can equally catalyse the fleeing of refugees and migrants.
In as much as countries, especially the powerful ones, have recommitted to providing assistance to refugees and migrants, they need to galvanise a unified approach addressing the root causes rather than symptoms of the problem.
As long as the bigotry interests of the ‘big countries’ remain a priority over the needs of people they supposedly seek to serve, the global community will remain in the vicious circle of the prevalent crisis.
The writer is an International Law expert.