The United Nations High Commission on Refugees recently reported that the number of refugees in the world today is around 45 million, no precise figure is available because the number keeps increasing each and every day.
That number of refugees is about the same as during the disastrous period of World War II. During and after that war the word refugee was not used but instead the people who had lost everything, including their country, were called displaced persons. But whether displaced persons or refugees we live at time when wars, natural disasters, joblessness, crime, terrorism and climate change are forcing people into statelessness.
Currently, five countgries are creating the bulk of the refugee problem – Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. In these five countries the movement of people elsewhere is largely the result of religious and civil war, ethnic strife and violent competition for control of natural resources. Each of these five countries are failed states as they do not have the capacity or the will to provide a safe haven or the basic necessities of life for their citizens.
I visited a refugee camp a year ago in northern Iraq run by the UN with considerable support from the United States and the European Union. The camp held behind barbed wire nearly 100,000 Syrians in primitive conditions – families of ten sleeping in makeshift tents and using toilet and water facilities that were unsanitary. The camp was the saddest place that I have ever visited.
It can be expected that the number of refugees currently in camps will not quickly decline since the sources of their stateless status will only continue. Manay of these people have lived for years in the camps and in some cases there have been uprisings of the residents as they lash out against the hopelessness of their predicament. We often define the devastation of war in terms of deaths and destruction, but to those two evils must now be added the growing refugee problem, which can only be described as a human tragedy.