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We have an obligation to refugees

By Mohammed Samaana

Published 22/06/2015

Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists arrive at a refugee camp (AP)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists arrive at a refugee camp (AP)

This year's Refugee Week is very timely. Thousands of refugees give their savings to ruthless traffickers and risk their lives every day trying to reach Europe. Political leaders talk about them as a burden. Prolonged media coverage makes you think that the whole world is moving to Britain.

The Government, however, is benefiting from the crisis as it diverts attention from its austerity measures. Additionally, immigrants are the scapegoat that can be blamed for any rise in unemployment caused by the cuts or the financial crisis.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees worldwide by mid-2014 was 13 million. The UNHCR acknowledged that this figure excludes five million Palestinian refugees (the largest group) as they are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Other agencies put the figure at six or seven million.

Syrian refugees make up the second-largest group. The Syrian dictator, Bashar Hafez al-Assad - backed by Russia and Iran - admitted using unconventional weapons against civilians. Syrians are fleeing due to the regime's brutal response to the uprising that has been hijacked by Isis - a split of al-Qaeda, which was founded by USA-trained fundamentalists.

Syria is followed by Afghanistan, a country devastated by a Nato invasion in 2001. Before that, Afghanistan was under a barbaric Taliban rule which followed a Soviet occupation. Oil-rich Iraq also became a major exporter of refugees after the Western invasion in 2003.

Some 86% of the refugees are hosted by poor countries. Pakistan is the largest host, followed by Lebanon, which tops the list in per capita terms. The second is Jordan.

These are embarrassing facts for politicians who only talk about the minority of refugees who come to Europe while ignoring others like the Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing persecution by Burma's Buddhists. Ironically, the EU responded by easing sanctions on Burma. Some Western countries are partly responsible for the problem. They need to deal with that and treat the refugees humanely until they can return to their own countries.

  • Mohammed Samaana is a writer based in Belfast

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