Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 6 November 2015

We’re human beings; it is our duty to help displaced people

Many heads of state do not understand that it is the humane and right thing to help displaced people. Many European Union member states are, instead, spending vast amounts of money, and resources to trying to keep displaced people out.

The sad reality for many is that the world is an ugly place. War, poverty conflict, persecution, as well as sexual violence is a constant and persistent looming presence. Escaping these conditions becomes sometimes issue of life or death, a fact that led to the largest mass human displacement in recorded history since the World War II.

When speaking to The Guardian recently, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, was quoted as saying: “If you look at those displaced by conflict per day, in 2010 it was 11,000, last year there were 42,000. This means a dramatic increase in need, from shelter to water and sanitation, food, medical assistance, education.” The horrific travesty is the fact that funds are being cut, as Guterres explains further: “The budgets cannot be compared with the growth in need. Our income in 2015 will be around 10% less than in 2014. The global humanitarian community is not broken; as a whole they are more effective than ever before. But we are financially broke.”

The world was recently moved to shed a tear for the three year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee toddler whose limp corpse washed ashore the Mediterranean coastline. The world not only mourned the untimely death of this boy, who looked as if he had been in the deep grip of an afternoon nap, as he lay dead on that beach. But a new consciousness seemed to take root. We questioned the world we live in, and we questioned the narrative we attach to displaced people.

Debates raged as to whether we should call the hordes of Syrians and North Africans risking, life, limb and health as they cross the Mediterranean, or the road networks linking East to West, refugees or migrants. All these debates and academic discourse continued as Abdullah Kurdi, Aylan’s father, mourned the death of his two toddler sons and his wife. Abdullah, like millions of other people in a similar position, had received money from his elder sister to smuggle his family into Europe in an effort to save their lives. Instead, their cold dead bodies washed up on the shore that was supposed to be their destination of refuge.

So, despite elevated consciousness and humanitarian organisations redoubling their efforts, the actual story on the ground looks shameful, all because of the lack of money. While the Russian, United States, Syrian, and whichever other governments who have entered the fray on the biggest contemporary mass movement, are locked in a game of chess involving chemical weapons, civilian death, and beheadings by the Islamic State (IS), the daily displacement of human beings through conflict has risen four- to five-fold.

If you are sitting on pretty much the same funding pool, and the crisis you need to address with those funds has quadrupled, chances are that that budget will be blown out of the water. Any businessperson would tell you that cash-flow, and the management thereof, is the key to a business failing or succeeding. Cash-flow has been deeply impacted in this humanitarian business, because Africa and many of the various refugee crises throughout the world has been negatively affected by funds being diverted northwards, as international news media continue to show us images of desperate people traversing hundreds of kilometres into Europe.

Africa has had a refugee crisis for decades. Despotic rulers like Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir, are at war with the people of their own countries. Al Bashir has been accused of using cluster bombs on his own people, of being responsible for the deaths of up to half-a-million people, of the forced recruitment, use of child soldiers in conflict, and of using rape as a weapon of war. In the wake of other horrific human rights violations across the continent, millions of Africans take to the roads on foot, on the back of trucks, in the hulls of ships, to escape their persistent misery.

When I am not writing for this publication, or having public debates over whatever dominates public discourse via talk radio, I work as a communications officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Southern Africa Region, a primary implementing partner for UNHCR across the region. With a presence in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Angola, part of my job entails covering the work we do throughout the region, and speaking to refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people to retell their stories.

Take the case of Mama Yvette, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who has been living in South Africa since 2007. Torrents of tears pour down her cheeks at the mere thought and memory of what brought her to Johannesburg, where she sought refuge. Here she has found nothing but misery.

Mama Yvette was four months pregnant when rebels arrived at her home in the DRC, one fateful night. The rebels enquired about the whereabouts of her husband, but she did not know where he was. Because she couldn’t account for her husband’s whereabouts, the rebels turned on her and brutality beat and raped her, to the extent that she lost the baby. They also raped her eldest daughter.

Her physical scars are visible, but the psychological and emotional trauma she endured has left deep wounds that may never heal. Today JRS assists her with food, a small amount of money for rent and her many medical needs require attention as well. Through our home-based care programme, we help her manage chronic hypertension and diabetes. She also suffers from kidney failure.

The Jesuit Refugee Service has built, and run a nursery, primary, and secondary school in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi’s Dowa District, where 25,000 refugees reside. We have also built, and are responsible for the running of a secondary school in Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe. Our advocacy, re-integration and additional services to the urban refugees of Angola and South Africa help thousands obtain the correct documentation, access healthcare, feed their families, and earn their own livelihoods. These projects, and many similar across the continent, are under threat as a result of receding funding.

The numbers are stark. UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, explains: “Many refugees in Africa depend on WFP food to stay alive and are now suffering because of a shortage of funding.” According to the WFP: “Across Africa, 2.4 million refugees in some 200 sites in 22 countries depend on regular food aid from the World Food Programme. Currently, a third of those refugees have seen reductions in their rations, with refugees in Chad facing cuts as high as 60 per cent.”

The Guardian quotes the UNHCR on how much had been collected to fund the current humanitarian crisis up until September 2015: “The current global humanitarian funding budget for all countries stands at $19.52bn (£12.84bn), but only $7.15bn of that has been raised from international donors.”

Bleeding heart accounts of the suffering of African, Syrian, and all other refugees aside, the simple, pragmatic truth, is that if Africa, the Middle East, or any other part of the world, are unable to deal with their regional displacement crises at a local level.

Western Europe will face greater pressure as a destination of refuge for displaced people. Not every political head of European Union member states is Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, who welcomed 1 million Syrian refugees despite local and neighbourly outrage. Not all political leaders understand that because refugees are eager to rebuild their lives, they are good for a country, in the long term. Refugee communities generally work hard, start businesses, and educate their children, and diversify the culture and economy of the country of refuge. Many of these heads of state, and their citizens do not understand that it is the humane and right thing to help displaced people. Many European Union member states are, instead, spending vast amounts of money, and resources to trying to keep displaced people out.

If these resources were diverted to aiding those refugees in the camps and cities in the Middle East and Africa, and the nations that are involved in the conflicts that lead to these mass displacements, invested some of their money in aid rather than missiles, gunships, tanks, and boots on the ground, then just perhaps the current crisis would dissipate.

Why would any person escaping war and death, confined to the difficulties of surviving as a refugee in a foreign city or camp not see Europe, or any other developed economy, as the only option when they are forced to consume as little as 40% of their daily dietary requirements? Development and aid funding, and the knock-on effect it creates needs serious rethinking globally. DM

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