Refugee resettlement worldwide hit a twenty year low due to the pandemic. Find out why the UN says this has to change by the end of the year.
We have a new fixture at our farmer’s market here in town. The stall is called Rasmi’s Falafel. They offer Middle Eastern cuisine, including everything from falafel to baba ganoush to, best of all, baklava.
Islam Salamah and her husband Rasmi Al Hariri are the couple behind Rasmi’s Falafel. They were part of a wave of over 25,000 Syrian refugees that Canada welcomed in 2016.
They’re just one of many refugee resettlement success stories across Canada. The refugees from Syria have adapted well to our multicultural society.
Syrians Have Been Just as Successful as Other Refugees
Despite reservations about their sheer numbers, the Syrian cohort has been just as successful as other refugees at this stage. Many, like Islam and Rasmi, have started their own businesses.
Some of them create jobs for neighbours who were born in Canada. These have included the famous Sufi’s Restaurant in Toronto and Peace by Chocolate in Nova Scotia.
Rasmi’s Falafel and refugee resettlement are on my mind today. A report hit my in-basket from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).
Pandemic Delays Departures While Causing Freezes
The number of refugees who’ve found new homes globally has fallen from 50,000 in 2019 to 15,000 in 2020. Readers are right to guess that it’s from COVID-19. The pandemic delays departures while causing temporary freezes in host countries.
The UNHCR member countries set a quota for 2020 of 50,000, the same figure as last year. That was already a cut from the original plan of 70,000 and a significant drop from the 126,291 resettled in 2016.
“We are dealing with a disappointingly low resettlement ceiling to begin with, said Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “A quota of less than 50,000 for the entire year – and this was further impacted by COVID-19 delaying departures and pausing some states’ resettlement programs.”
The direst issue was probably in Libya, where emergency evacuations planned for March 12 didn’t happen because of the coronavirus. Six hundred of those refugees were headed for Canada, and about 200 of them were living in inhumane migrant detention centres. They didn’t make it out until October 15.
Emergency Evacuations Stopped Because of Coronavirus
Less than 1% of the world’s 20.4 million refugees obtain refugee resettlement, making all the quotas we’ve mentioned a drop in the bucket. The UNHCR estimates that close to 1.5 million refugees urgently need resettlement, but member countries impose strict limits.
Syrians still represent the largest refugee resettlement group as the civil war in that country has dragged on for almost a decade. They make up 41% of the total, while Congolese refugees are the next largest nationality at 16%.
Still, candidates for refugee resettlement come from around the globe. Beyond Syria and Congo, 47 other countries of origin complete the list, with sizable contingents from Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Refugees Aren’t Like Other Immigrants
Refugees aren’t like other immigrants. They’ve been forcibly displaced from their homes, and most of them need legal and physical protection.
About 30% of this year’s refugees have endured violence or torture, and most of them are women and children at risk. Refugees don’t fit the stereotypes some readers might have about them.
As with many pandemic stories, there are glimmers of hope in all of this. In one case, 1,027 refugees who had suffered through the Beirut explosions found homes in nine resettlement countries.
Resettlement Countries are Loosening Requirements
On a similar note, resettlement countries are loosening processing requirements and travel restrictions. That may improve refugee resettlement by the end of the year, provided the pandemic reversals we’re seeing don’t affect these policies.
If the numbers don’t improve, this year’s backlog will have a cascading effect. Those who aren’t resettled this year become part of next year’s quota.
That blocks people who find themselves needing resettlement next year. The UNHCR wants countries to find ways to find homes for more refugees by the end of the year despite the coronavirus.
“Resettlement Saves Refugees’ Lives”
Ms. Triggs explained that “Expanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees’ lives and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea.” For example, earlier this month, 74 migrants from Libya drowned in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea.
Under the Global Compact on Refugees, the UNHCR has two primary refugee resettlement mandates. It provides better protection for refugees, and it supports countries that host large refugee populations.
Readers can support the UNHCR through donations here. The funds provide refugees with tents, blankets, cooking sets and medicine.
Donations Provide Tents, Blankets and Medicine
Getting to the roots of the refugee resettlement issue will take deeper measures. These can only come from governments and world leaders.
One problem is that most countries don’t take part in the program. The United States is the world leader in refugee resettlement.
Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Scandinavian countries all play significant roles. Once they’ve filled their quotas, refugees struggle to fend for themselves.
Handful of Countries Cause Most of the Displacement
The other root cause of the refugee resettlement challenge is that a handful of countries cause most of the displacement of populations worldwide.
Earlier this year, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi noted that more than two-thirds of displaced people come from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. “If crises in these countries were solved, 68 percent of global forced displacement would be on its way to being solved,” he explained.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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