In recent days, all eyes have turned to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washing up on Turkish coast. Although graphic, a photograph of Aylan’s body has been shared and printed thousands of times, making international impact as global citizens demand shelter for these fleeing refugees. While it is tragic that it took the death of this child to draw international attention to this crisis, the results have forced administrators to address the refugee crisis.
Videos of German citizens cheering and applauding arriving refugees have circled the web, but unfortunately, these sentiments are not shared across Europe. France has announced they will accept 24,000 migrants and Britain an even fewer 20,000. Even Germany, the country that has arguably done the most to address the crisis, must cap their refugee admittance at 500,000 migrants annually. These efforts hardly seem sufficient as in 2015 alone, 367,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Europe’s safer shore.
Some countries have had an openly hostile response to the refugees flooding their shores. In Hungary, government officials are refusing to deny asylum to refugees under the argument that they are simply fleeing bad economic conditions and not violence. The Prime Minister is pushing for the completion of a 13-foot fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border and many nations have refused to acknowledge the refugees at all.
What does this mean for the U.S.? Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict four years ago, the United States has accepted only 1,500 refugees. The Obama administration has said it is “actively considering” more ways to help and an official White House petition has over 48,000 signatures from citizens urging the administration to allow refugees into the country. The administration adds that the U.S. has provided over $4 billion in humanitarian assistance since the Syrian crisis began, and over $1 billion in assistance this year, making the U.S. “the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis.” We eagerly await more information from the administration and hope that this crisis can be addresses swiftly and safely.
A month ago, brutal ethnic violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks peoples. As a result of four days of blood and chaos, half a million people fled from their homes, almost 200 people were killed, and thousands were injured. These displaced persons are still left without clean water, medical care, and shelter.
30 days later, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are still 75,000 people in Kyrgyzstan without a home.
We have seen many refugee crises throughout history, with several taking place in the past 100 years:
Palestine: Countless individuals have been displaced since the Israeli war of independence in 1948.
Haiti: The earthquake of January 2010 has left 1.5 million displaced persons, the majority of whom are left to roam the streets.
Iraq: The war in Iraq has resulted in about 4.5 million displaced persons since 2003, many of whom have spread throughout the Middle East.
Colombia: The Colombian Civil War resulted in 4 million displaced persons.
Somalia: Countless Somali refugees have crammed into Kenya, unable to find homes, have been forced to face xenophobia in South Africa, and still struggle to make a new identity for themselves wherever they can, due to violence and corruption in their home country.
The list continues.
The issue of displaced persons continues to be a source of conflict for host countries, the refugees themselves, and the rest of the international community. One of the biggest problems that displaced persons deal with after a conflict is a lack of identity: Because of whatever disaster or conflict they have had to endure, they flee from their homes in a heightened state of fear and stress, liable to forget important documentation. In the Kyrgyzstan case, many displaced persons have completely lost birth certificates, passports, and any documents of land ownership. In terms of anything concrete in the official government world—they are no one.
Luckily, there are external agencies to assist the displaced persons, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has recently made an arrangement with the Kyrgyz authorities to reconstruct 550 homes in the affected area.
In addition, UNICEF has made great strides in creating safe spaces for children who have had to suffer through the violence. These communities allow youth to play, draw, sing, dance, and enjoy each other’s company—and more importantly not dwell on their dire situation. This has proven beneficial given that most of the refugees in Kyrgyzstan are in fact women and children. UNICEF is also providing funding to train teachers and psychologists to help the children recuperate.
Steps to heal and reassemble normal life have been taken in Kyrgyzstan, although there is still much to be done. However, the question remains why there are so many cases of displaced persons in the world that have not yet been addressed, months, years, even decades after the original conflict.