A history of refugees

According to the United Nations, a refugee is a person who flees their home country due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” From ancient to recent times, from poor areas to developed countries, refugees could be seen almost everywhere. Nowadays, although the global economy has been developing very fast, the problem of refugee still exits. With the old issues remain unsolved, the new ones also emerging, the situation of refugees did not improve a lot much. The number of refugees has kept raising and their geographical distribution has kept widening, how to find the solution to refugee problems has become a cross-century challenge for the whole world.

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Poverty is one of the fatal roots of the refugee problem. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in their report on the global food and agricultural situation, points out that there are still 13% of the human species on earth (about 800 million) are still starving. And the phenomenon is most serious in the African continent — there were about 400 million people lack of food or clothes; Asia following Africa sees the less worst situation — there are about 300 million people are still suffering from hunger all day long; And the population in Latin America who live under the poverty line reach the number of 70 million. We notice that, the number of refugees in each continent refers to a considerable proportion of the number of people suffer from starvation. The latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) statistics shows that there are more than 2100 million refugees in total worldwide, of which 8.44 million in Asia, 5.33 million in Africa, 1.04 million in North America, 570 thousand in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe is home for 564 thousand refugees among whom mostly come from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In recent years, our whole world sees the continuous development of science and technology along with the global economy. However, food shortage is still a very fatal and serious problem. In a report released by Food and Agricultural Organization in March, it demonstrated that due to continuous natural disasters, there are now 60 million people living in 33 different countries are facing various degrees of food insecurity problems. The report, entitled “Shortage of Food and Crops”, said that some African area in the south of sub-Saharan region is facing the most serious food deficit — 16 countries in that area are in extreme food shortage. In East Africa, although the situation of the year-long drought has been improved last year, yet 18 million people live in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania still need the international community to continue to provide emergency food aid. In Mozambique and other southern African countries, the recent outbreak of floods caused severe damage to crops, and these countries also need access to food aid too. Many countries in Asia are also troubled by the shortage of food. Serious food crisis has begun in Afghanistan due to continuing civil war and drought. East and Central Asia countries such as Armenia, Georgia and Tajikistan are also in the need of food aid due to the droughts happened in their domestics. Food shortages directly threaten the lives of local residents, in order to survive, the population in poor area was forced to leave their homes and become refugees of no fixed abodes.

Another reason for refugee problems are very difficult to solve is the deteriorating economic situation and the over grown population in some certain countries. Let’s take the case of Africa for instance. In recent years, with the African political situation is easing and the economic situation began to improve, people seem to think that everything is going to be OK. However, there are still many countries out there lack of funds for development and many countries are carrying very heavy debt. According to international organizations’ latest statistics, the total external debt of the entire Africa reached 360 billion US dollars. It is more than 24 times of what it was 30 years ago. Heavy debt, on the one hand, brings deathly heavy burden to the African countries, and also seriously hampered Africa’s economic and social development strategies. Africa’s share in international trade continue to decline, till now they only have 2% while the foreign direct investment put in the whole Africa continent every year is only 1.5% of total international investment. Relatively backward economic conditions lead to the fact that the proportion of poor people in Africa is far more than that in other continents. Africa’s population accounts for over 12% of the total population of the whole world, yet, Africa’s GDP is only about 2% of that of the globe. Africa now has a population of about 700 million; the average annual population growth rate is 3%, with the growth in agriculture only goes to 2.5% per year. In some countries, there might be even negative growth in agriculture. There can’t be enough food grown to feed the fast increasing population.

Too fast growth of population has also caused a shortage or even depletion of natural resources in some parts of Africa. According to researches, every year in Africa, more than 4 million hectares of forests are destroyed. There are severe desertification in many areas which leads to abnormal climate change, floods, droughts and pests. Human destruction contributed a lot in creating this vicious cycle. The ecological environment in many African countries is deteriorating, many places are no longer suitable for living, and the former local residents were forced to leave and find other places to live.

Besides, race, religious conflicts and territorial disputes caused intensification of the conflict and wars could be counted as another reason for refugees. In the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has last for a century has one worst consequence that it created a ripple of Palestinian refugees and the problem of these refugees even have an influence throughout the whole Middle East region. The wave of refugee formed by this conflict was the biggest and longest one in history. Currently, among the 21 million refugees worldwide, the Palestinian refugees make up the biggest part with a number of 3.5 million in total. From the emergence of the first generation of Palestinian refugees till now, the problem of them has continued for over 50 years and we could not even clearly see the hope to solve it. The problem of Palestinian refugees has become a big obstacle to remaining peace between Israel and Pakistan.

Balkans refugee problems caused by the ethnic conflicts are quite bad too. Since the broke up of the civil war in the early nineties in the 20th century, the number of refuges in the Balkans has reached millions, of which women and children are the majority. In March, ethnic Albanians extremists had a large-scale armed conflict with the government forces; it caused another new refugee flow in Macedonia. The long-lasting civil war in Afghanistan make more than 7 million refugees ran away to Iran and Pakistan. In South Africa, the largest number of refugees could be found in Angola and Mozambique. These two countries’ recent 20 years were occupied by civil war or natural disasters, millions of people become displaced refugees. In Central Africa, because of the armed tribal conflict between Rwanda and Burundi, more than 2 million refugees fled to eastern Congo (DRC) region, and led to the conflict between Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, as well as Burundi and Uganda. It once caused the refugee crisis. The situation of refugees in eastern Africa is also increasingly worse: the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia lasts for over 10 years forced thousands of refugees flew to other countries; The Sudan’s civil war which nearly lasts for 50 years, forced large number of refugees fled to Ethiopia, bar Doyle, Central Africa and Kenya to survive; Now, in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia and other countries, bloody conflicts and terrorist activities are still forcing local residents to flee their homes and become homeless refugees.

Natural disasters are also important reasons contributed to the refugee problem which we cannot ignore. According to materials released by international organizations, that the average death caused by natural disasters every year is 1.44 million, 57 thousand injured and 5 million homeless. Severe famine caused by natural disasters kills at least 73.6 thousand every year. In the past decade, various types of natural disasters caused the loss of 608 billion U.S. dollars in total and millions of refugees left their home and become wandering.

Refugees not only bring problems to developing countries, but also bring burdens to developed countries. Large numbers of people move from developing countries to developed countries every year and among them, there are a lot of illegal immigrants who just becomes the “economic refugees”. Their existence with uncertainty of safety and economical support lead to social problems in developing countries.

After World War II, to deal with the refugee issue left in Europe by the war, the international community set up a temporary agency in Geneva to solve the European refugee problem in the year 1951. It was responsible for the specific work of resettlement of the refugees. Later on, with the increasing number of refugees all over the world, this agency’s scope also expanded and finally become the current United Nations Higher Commission of Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR is funded mainly by contributions from the international community, 2% of the annual budget allocation by the United Nations, and the remaining 98% of pledges by countries. The annual budget of the UNHCR in the early ninetieth in the 20th century was 120 million and that in the year 2002 was 78 million U.S dollars. The current agent of UNHCR, former Prime Minister of Netherland Ruud Lubbers holds the opinion that to solve the refugee problem, the budget every year should at least be more than 110 million dollars. Resettlement work is a systematic project, in addition to rescue. At present, there are three major and general solutions to the refugee problems: voluntary repatriation; local integration and third- country resettlement.

After the United Nations Higher Commission of Refugees was founded, the scope of its assistance activities continued to change: European refugees in the 1950s; focus move on to Africa in 1960-1970s; in the late 1970s, serious refugee problems have been all over Asia, Africa, and Latin American continents, the total number of refugees grow over 10 million; After the cold war in the late 1990s, ethnic conflicts and religious conflicts have become increasingly prominent in some parts of the world. Conflicts, civil wars and political instabilities led to large-scale influx of refugees. United Nations statistics show that in the last ten years in the 20th century, the number of refugees in the world increased by a variety of more than 7 million, from 15 million in 1990 to 22 million in the early of the year 2000. Among them, the world’s total number of refugee in 1991 was 17 million while this data became 23 million in 1993 and later in 1995 to a record 27 million.

World Refugee Day occurs on June 20. The day was created in 2000 by a special United Nations General Assembly Resolution. June 20 had previously been commemorated as African Refugee Day in a number of African countries. In the United Kingdom World Refugee Day is celebrated as part of Refugee Week. Refugee Week is a nationwide festival designed to promote understanding and to celebrate the cultural contributions of refugees, and features many events such as music, dance and theatre.

History tells us that the refugee problem is threatening our step of development in secure and peace. There are so many complicated reasons that cause the problem of refugee and there is no simple solution to it. Human beings must face the fact that we have these problems all around and work out ways to effectively eliminate this piece of dark shadow that has always been on our planet.