(Picture: Youth-led organisation FRAD Foundation in Nigeria holding child rights sessions in an IDP camp)
Being forced to flee your home in search of safety due to conflict, climate disaster or other emergencies is a devastating and dangerous experience faced by millions of people across the world every single day. Sadly, the number of people facing this situation is rising year on year, with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimating that over 117 million people will be forcibly displaced or stateless in 2023.
Children, who played no part creating the crises they are now forced to flee, make up over half of the world's refugee and internally displaced population, with UNICEF announcing last year that the number of children displaced from their homes is currently the highest since the Second World War.
The right to seek and be granted asylum in other countries when facing persecution is protected under international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention, yet some of the world's most vulnerable people are facing increasing hostility during what is likely to be one of the most traumatic periods of their lives.
The theme of World Refugee Day this year is "hope away from home: a world where refugees are always included". Sadly, this statement is still far from reality as the wealthiest countries continue to turn their backs on those who need it most.
Despite their wealth, the assumption that the richest countries are the most generous to refugees is a total myth. In fact, by the end of 2021 the vast majority of the world’s refugees – 83% – were hosted by developing countries.
Usually, a country's generosity to refugees is calculated by comparing the number of refugees hosted to the host country’s population. However, if the number of refugees and asylum-seekers a country is hosting is compared with the wealth of that country instead, the unjust international response to people fleeing crises becomes even starker.
Calculating the number of refugees a country hosts per million of a that country's GDP demonstrates even more dramatically how the poorest countries are providing astronomically more support in proportion to their wealth. African countries, despite being some of the poorest in the world, continue to be some of the most generous to refugees and internally displaced people.
For example, countries in the European Union provide refuge for just one person per $4.3 million of their GDP. In comparison, Africa provides refuge for 14 people with the same amount. The graph below, from the Justice for Africa's Children report published by 100 Million and Laureates and Leaders for Children earlier this year, shows the number of refugees and asylum-seekers supported in each region per million of the country's GDP. In fact, eight of the top ten and 15 of the top 20 most generous countries providing refuge in the world are in Africa.
Even when richer countries do fulfil their political responsibility to provide refuge for people seeking safety from persecution, they often face an increasingly hostile environment when they arrive. For many wealthy governments, refugees and asylum seekers have become easy political targets and used as scapegoats in inflammatory, racist and discriminatory media coverage, the vast majority of which is false.
Refugee children, who are at increased risk of further exclusion, abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment, are not exempt from this injustice, Many European countries peddle lies about the age of refugee children, refusing to recognise they are under 18 in order to avoid providing (and funding) the support they have the right to as vulnerable children.
A number of high-income countries go even further in their unjust international response to refugees, attempting to forcibly relocate refugees (and migrants more generally) to another country, against their commitments under international law, and even prevent the rescue of migrants and asylum-seekers stranded at sea.
Just last week, a devastating tragedy took place in the Mediterranean Sea, when a boat carrying up to 750 men, women and children heading for Europe capsized. Up to 100 children are feared dead, with survivors accusing the Greek government and the EU border agency Frontex of leaving and allowing the boat to sink. Many campaigners strongly believe that the immense loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea, where the IOM has recorded over 22,000 missing people since 2014, would be preventable if governments provided safe passageways and vulnerable people weren't forced to use dangerous routes to reach the West.
YOUNG PEOPLE DEFENDING THE RIGHTS OF REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED CHILDREN
In direct opposition to the hostility and apathy to the plight of refugees shown by many governments, young people across the world are continuously standing up for the rights of their peers who have been forced to flee their homes.
Youth-led organisations, many of them refugee young people, are pioneering innovate campaigns and programmes to ensure vulnerable displaced children are free, safe and educated.
For example, I CAN South Sudan (picture above) based in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement provide safe spaces for educational support as well as creative programmes using art, music and dance to offer holistic healing to refugee children. Youth activists and partners taking part in the Justice for Africa campaign have also focused on advocating for the rights of refugee and IDP children, such as Survivors Network Cameroon and Prime Goals Initiative in Nigeria.
Globally, young people and students have also united to defend the right to education in emergencies, with over 125 youth- and student-led organisations from over 40 countries part of the Education Cannot Wait youth- and student-led subgroup. From grassroots refugee-led organisations to global student unions, this group is the first democratic, collective constituency of young people directly participating in the decision-making of a global multilateral fund as equal stakeholders alongside governments, donors and other civil-society organisations.
END THE UNJUST INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE TO REFUGEES
On World Refugee Day 2023, we join fellow activists and human rights defenders across the world in calling for an end to the injustice and discrimination faced by refugees, asylum and internally displaced people across the world.
If we are to realise the theme of this years World Refugee Day and deliver 'hope away from home' then the world's richest countries must stop demonising the world's most vulnerable people and fulfil their political responsibilities under international law to give sanctuary to displaced people. Safe passage for those forced to flee their homes in search of safety must be provided, and international action to end the root causes of conflict, instability and climate change that forces people to flee in the first place must be taken urgently.