The refugee crisis has become the humanitarian challenge of our time according to new Legatum Institute report.
Today as we mark UN World Refugee Day, there are more people on the move than ever before. The worldwide number of registered refugees forcibly displaced by war, persecution and violence continues to climb. In total, at least 66 million people globally are experiencing forced displacement, and many more are exposed to high levels of socioeconomic vulnerability, facing insecurity and natural hazards.
The Legatum Institute’s Global People Movements report highlights that the factors that lie behind the hazardous journeys undertaken by refugees, migrants and victims of trafficking are both varied and complex. What is clear is that these are increasingly journeys of necessity, not opportunity. It is apparent that the challenge of accommodating the current levels of displacement has become too great for 20th Century approaches, with outmoded interventions seeing many refugees and migrants spending decades in accommodation that was originally designed for temporary relief.
Current definitions of ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ also do not reflect the complexity of the evolving nature migrant journeys. A single term can no longer define individuals on the move, including those who are forcibly displaced. With journeys spanning a greater time period than in the past, most migrants are likely to take on different statuses at various points on their journey. At times, these statuses may even overlap, making categorisation a complex undertaking that can diminish a person’s vulnerability.
This vulnerability is hard to overstate. Refugees and migrants face intolerable risks. Many irregular migrants are dependent on human traffickers to move, and reliance on these people smugglers has seen the worst forms of violence against migrants. Somalis travelling to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden have been forced into the sea and drowned, so that the smugglers transporting them could avoid detection by security forces. Upon arrival, migrants can be beaten, starved, sexually violated, and imprisoned to force them to pay a ransom fee to their smugglers.
Data on human trafficking is scarce, with the IOM estimating that the number of victims identified each year globally could represent less than 1% of the true number. What we do know is that most of the detected victims of human trafficking are women and girls (71%), with much trafficking for sexual exploitation, though people are also increasingly trafficked for labour exploitation, including in construction, agriculture, tourism and domestic work.
This is a growing problem that requires urgent attention. An estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation. Approximately 24.9 million of these are victims of forced labour globally, 8 million of whom are held in debt bondage, a practice of forcing an individual to work to repay a debt for little or no pay.
We are struggling to see the true nature of these challenges with clarity, and to respond with compassion. This is an international issue, with no single, simple solution. It is therefore imperative that we work together, to identify the key trends, and to debate and shape an effective policy response. It is essential that we remember a simple truth: that behind every statistic is an individual. For each and every one of them, these journeys are motivated by a simple desire we can all identify with: to build a life where we can fulfil our potential, free from the threat of conflict, oppression, poverty and hunger.
We must remember that all people, regardless of whether they feature in migration, refugee or trafficking statistic have the potential to be contributors to society. Each life kept on hold in a refugee camp, devalued through slavery or forced prostitution, or lost in transit is a human tragedy. We owe it to those undertaking these journeys – and to ourselves – to give this urgent issue the attention it deserves.
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