Richest countries not helping refugees

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The front of the 100,000-strong ‘Refugees Welcome’ march in London last September
The front of the 100,000-strong ‘Refugees Welcome’ march in London last September

‘IT is shameful that, as one of the richest economies, the UK has provided shelter for less than one per cent of refugees,’ the head of Oxfam commented on Monday.

Oxfam’s report A Poor Welcome from the World’s Wealthy, published last Monday, says that the six wealthiest countries on the planet – which make up more than half the global economy – host less than nine per cent of the world’s refugees while poorer countries are shouldering most of the responsibility.

It also shows that China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States between them host 2.1 million refugees and asylum seekers, or 8.9 per cent of the world’s total. While Germany has recently welcomed far more refugees than the other richest nations, there remains a major gap with poorer countries hosting the vast majority of refugees.

The UK hosts just 169,000 refugees and asylum seekers, less than one per cent of the world’s total. In sharp contrast – Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa – host over half of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers even though they make up less than two per cent of the world’s economy.

More than 65 million people have fled their homes because of conflict and violence, 40.8 million within their own countries, 21.3 million as refugees and 3.2 million awaiting asylum decisions – the highest levels since records began. The conflict in Syria has been a major factor, but people are also fleeing violence in South Sudan, Burundi, Iraq and Yemen, amongst others.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: ‘Many governments are turning their backs on the suffering of millions of vulnerable people who have fled their homes, and shirking their duty to protect them. Thousands are risking their lives to reach a safe haven.

‘Those lucky enough to survive often end up living in squalid conditions without enough clean water or food and face hostility, discrimination and abuse with too many governments doing little to help or protect them. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time yet poorer countries, and poorer people, are left to shoulder the responsibility.

‘It is a complex crisis that requires a co-ordinated, global response with the richest countries doing their fair share by welcoming more refugees and doing more to help and protect them wherever they are. Now more than ever, the UK needs to show that it is an open, tolerant society that is prepared to play its part in solving this crisis. It is shameful that, as one of the richest economies, the UK has provided shelter for less than one per cent of refugees.’

The recent deal between European governments and Turkey, which has left thousands of men, women and children detained in Greece in often appalling conditions, goes against the spirit of international law and sets a dangerous precedent. Announcing the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, the Kenyan government said if Europe could turn away Syrians, then Kenya could do the same for Somalis.

‘I urge people to stand as one with the millions forced to flee and put pressure on world leaders meeting in New York in September to act,’ said Goldring. The report states: ‘While some richer countries have provided some refugees with a new start, the number of people they have welcomed in this way is extremely small compared to the numbers of refugees hosted by other countries. The world’s richest countries can and should do much more to help the world’s most vulnerable people who have fled their homes because of violence and conflict.’

Apart from the 21.3 million refugees, over 40 million more people have been displaced by conflict and violence, according to the same UN figures. These people have mostly resettled within their own countries, but Oxfam stresses that the fact they have stayed in their homeland doesn’t mean the conditions in which they live are acceptable in terms of human rights and international law.

The agency declares that, due to the unprecedented numbers of those displaced and the scale it has taken, the current refugee crisis cannot be solved by single-handed efforts, and the global community should work together to tackle it. Every government of course has a right to maintain its country’s security. But this must be exercised alongside the responsibility to uphold international law to protect refugees.

‘Whenever governments, in whatever country, turn their backs on refugees it puts some of the most vulnerable people in the world in dangerous and frightening situations.’

The report comes ahead of two international summits that will focus on the refugee crisis. In September, UN Member States will meet in New York for the first UN Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, and then government leaders are to meet at the invitation of US President Obama, also to discuss ‘the refugee challenge’.

‘Ahead of the summits, Oxfam is calling on governments to not only host more people in need of safe havens, but to commit to do more to help the developing countries sheltering the majority of refugees and protect all people on the move,’ the agency stated.

• More than a third of councils in England have refused to take in Syrian refugees due to the cost of housing and supporting them. Councils have only made arrangements to take in 8,146 refugees of the total of 20,000 ex-PM Cameron pledged the UK would accept.

A survey of councils by the Local Government Chronicle revealed that of the 152 councils who oversee social care, 53 authorities are not offering to take in any refugees at all. Those which refused said it was largely because the money the government gives to councils for each refugee does not cover the cost of resettling them.

Councils receive £8,500 for each refugee in the first year they arrive, which gradually falls to £1,000 in the fifth year. But councils are already under financial pressure as the government has cut local authority funding by a third since 2010. Council leaders estimate the government’s resettlement payouts will only cover 70 to 80 per cent of the costs.

Ten councils in Manchester are not taking part, though discussions with the government are ongoing, while in London just 11 of the 32 boroughs have agreed to take in a total of 521 refugees. Lancashire is the area taking in the most refugees in England, with 600 set to be resettled there, while Gloucestershire is taking 560 and Kent 520.

Local Government Chronicle editor Nick Golding said: ‘The British government’s offer was initially limited to funding humanitarian assistance in the countries surrounding Syria to which the vast majority of refugees fled. Public disquiet eventually forced it to promise sanctuary to 20,000 refugees deemed particularly vulnerable. It falls to councils to offer places to refugees in each area.’

l The bodies of at least four refugees, including two children, were found off the coast of Greece’s Lesbos island last week after a dinghy carrying them capsized. The Greek coastguard said the bodies were retrieved last Wednesday during a search-and-rescue operation, undertaken after survivors told them 11 passengers were missing.

At least 2,923 refugees have died in the Mediterranean Sea or are still missing so far in 2016, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). An estimated 1.3 million refugees reached Europe by boat last year, compared with more than 238,000 who have made the perilous journey this year, according to the UNHCR.

In March, the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to halt the flow of refugees into Europe. That deal stipulates that rejected asylum seekers in Greece will be deported back to Turkey, while Syrian refugees will continue their asylum process from Turkey with the goal of being relocated to Europe. Following the EU-Turkey agreement, Balkan countries sealed their borders and left at least 57,000 refugees stuck in Greece.