World shrugs as tide of displaced humans overwhelms relief agencies

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — The number of refugees fleeing their native lands as well as people being internally displaced in their home countries has surged beyond even the most dire predictions.

Just six months ago, a UN report launched an urgent appeal for $16.4 billion to assist 58 million people; a record number of refugees, internally displaced persons and victims of famine.

Now six months later, stunning new demands have arisen to now needing nearly $19 billion to meet the humanitarian needs of 79 million people in 37 countries from Chad to Sudan and Syria. Of these, nearly 17 million are refugees. These numbers rival the flood of refugees at the end of WWII.

Juba camp in South Sudan.
Juba camp in South Sudan.

The UN’s new humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien concedes that despite the dire need, only about a quarter of the aid requirements have been met by donor governments and relief agencies. Indeed the UN’s current humanitarian appeal is five times larger that in 2004, a figure reflecting a world in calamity and chaos.

It’s appears that the human tsunami from civil wars, failed states, and famine threatens to overwhelm relief agencies. More troubling long term becomes the deeper problem of crisis overload, where the world simply shrugs the latest tragedy away.

Syria’s high profile civil war presents a clear and present danger not only geopolitically but on the humanitarian front where 12 million people need humanitarian help.

According to the UN’s Stephen O’ Brian, “7.6 million have been forced from their homes and four million people have left their country.”

Millions have settled or are in the refugee limbo of neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. These numbers are staggering and particularly destabilizing for small countries such as Lebanon.

The quiet horrors of Sudan and South Sudan where intra-Islamic violence in Darfur continues, is largely forgotten by a once fixated world.

Likewise, the tragedy and trauma of South Sudan, the Christian breakaway state, continues; some 4.6 million people face food insecurity.

In other cases, migrants from Chad, Nigeria and Eritrea are trying to slip illegally into southern Europe via Italy.

These unfortunates are at the mercy of trans-national criminal gangs and cartels who use and abuse these people most of which “make it” to Europe but then are shuffled into a netherworld of camps and holding facilities. Thousands others drown in the rough Mediterranean Sea usually because their boats are not seaworthy. European governments seem confounded to craft an equitable solution for the migrants fleeing misrule in the homelands.

Germany gets the largest number of asylum applications, 248,000 last year, while Hungary followed with 74,000, Italy with 64,000 and France with 58,000.

Clearly, the widening swath of radical Islam, especially the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as Al Qaida affiliates, have been the singular deadly catalyst for the troubles in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Then there’s the entrenched Islamic Taliban threat to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Doctors without Borders, (MSF) the French medical agency adds, “Iraq is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis in recent decades.” MSF advises, “Intense fighting has forced three million people to flee the war torn areas of central and northern Iraq and many are now stranded in areas without the most basic humanitarian assistance.” Yet in 2014, MSF carried out 219, 000 outpatient consultations for the displaced persons.

Brutal ethnic strife continues to plague the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) , Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Natural disasters such as in the recent earthquake in Nepal, added 2.8 million to the list.

According to the UN Global Humanitarian Response Report, there are 5 million people needing assistance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 10 million in Sudan and South Sudan, 8 million in Yemen, and 331,000 in Libya. The dire list continues.

When one thinks of the uprooted, say the Hungarians escaping the Soviet crackdown in 1956 or the Cubans fleeing Castro in the early 1960’s or even the Bosnians and Croatians of the early 1990’s we assume most asylum seekers soon integrate and assimilate into their host countries such as the USA or Canada.

This is less the case today. Sadly the average time a person stays displaced is seventeen years, according to the UN. This reflects the tragic case of the Afghans in Pakistan, a South Asian country which still hosts the world’s largest number of refugees.

Humanitarian agencies are doing an admirable job of treating the symptoms of global disorder, but politicians have failed in treating the problems which stem from an increasingly unstable world order which leads to disaster and the tragically growing netherworld of refugees and displaced persons.

Antonio Guterres, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees described the matter succinctly; “the world is a mess.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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