Displacement Can Last A Lifetime For Many Refugees

Originally published on July 11, 2013 10:05 am

According to a recent report by the United Nations, more than 45 million people worldwide were forced to flee their homes in 2012 — the highest number of refugees in nearly two decades.

People leave their homes for many reasons, including war and violence, environmental disaster and persecution. More than half of the refugees worldwide came from five countries, according to the UN: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.

“It’s a disaster there, but people have been stuck there for over 20 years.”
–Sasha Chanoff

And the struggle doesn’t necessarily end for refugees who make it to a safe haven. The UN estimates the average refugee remains displaced for 17 years.

Some refugee camps become humanitarian disasters — people aren’t allowed to work, they’re dependent on food aid and the camps become infected with violence and illness. One example is the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya.

“There’s inadequate shelter, inadequate food or healthcare. It’s a disaster there, but people have been stuck there for over 20 years,” Sasha Chanoff, founder and executive director of RefugePoint, a humanitarian aid organization, told Here & Now.

The international effort to help refugees is largely focused on food aid. While that’s crucial, Chanoff said, it does little to help individuals in the long run.

Ideally, refugees would be able to return to their home country or integrate into the country where they fled, but often that’s not possible. Resettlement in another country, such as the U.S., is the best chance many refugees have, Chanoff said.

“They are revitalizing depressed communities, they are contributing members of society, they have a pathway to citizenship,” Chanoff said. “And they contribute not only to our society by paying taxes and becoming active members, but they bring peace and security back home. They draw on the resources here — education and other resources — to try to rebuild their own homes.”

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Solutions “Although comparatively few refugees benefit from resettlement to a third country, it is the only of the three solutions over which the humanitarian community can wield much influence. Repatriation relies on political conditions in the home country and on that government’s interest in making conditions safe for return. Integration in the country of asylum relies on the goodwill of the host government to share its land and resources in perpetuity.”


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