At present, around the word – approximately 1 in every 122 people is either a refugee, an internally displaced person or an asylum seeker. As of December 2015 that equated to over 65.3 million people who had been forcefully displaced due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations and generalized violence – an increase of more than 5.8 million people on 2014 and over 27 million more since 2005. In 2015 alone, some 12.4 people were newly displaced. That’s a total of 24 people displaced every minutes throughout the year.
It should come as no surprise that once again the global south is bearing the heaviest burden, providing the most support and welcoming the most refugees. Turkey currently hosts 2.5 million people, Pakistan 1.6, Ethiopia 736,00, Jordan 664,000 and Lebanon 1.1 million people (roughly one quarter of its entire population.) Across the world displacement numbers are continuing to spiral out of control and the situation is only getting worse. Making things even more urgent is the fact that half of all displaced people are children.
Yet despite these truly shocking and deeply upsetting figures the global north continues to focus it’s attention on closing its borders, strengthening it’s immigrating systems and using whatever means it can to keep those in need of asylum OUT. The EU struck an appalling multibillion-dollar agreement with Turkey to take back thousands of refugees rightfully seeking asylum in the EU. Refugees and asylum seekers were teargased in Hungary and Calais while others were shot and killed on the borders of hungry, Slovakia, Turkey. Australia continues to imprison people in deplorable conditions on Nauru and Manus and the British parliament voted not to resettle thousands of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children. Such blatant disregard for the wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers is also having ramifications in the global south. Only last month the government of Kenya pledged to close Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world and, seems hell bent on pushing ahead with it even it places hundreds or thousands of people in serious danger.
Now, against this backdrop and in the same week that we celebrate world refugee day our privileged wealthy, and lets face it, often racist island is going to the polls to decide whether it wants to remain part of the EU or not. This referendum is a symbol of just how far Britain has lurched to the right and how extensive xenophobia now is in the county. In the build up to the vote tomorrow refugees and asylum seekers have been scapegoated by divisive, self-interested politicians, like Nigel Farage, who have whipped people into a fear fueled frenzy that the country is at “breaking point” due to migration. It has been an ugly spectacle whihc has made many of us feel deeply ashamed of both our political elite and more importantly our country as a whole.
The wealth and indeed the value of a nation is not measured by its economic output but rather by its tolerance, its inclusivity its defense of justice and fairness, its compassion and its willingness to support those in need. Refugees enrich our societies and make us stronger. And right now the fight for refugee rights across the world, especially in the EU and the UK is at the forefront of the fight against the rise of fascism and xenophobia. The struggles refugees face in accessing their rights serves as a harsh reminder of the world we need to create and of the justice we need to fight for. In standing in solidarity with them we are also standing in solidarity against racism, intolerance, injustice while simultaneously demanding a better world. By welcoming refugees and treating them with the compassion they so deserve we are also firmly rejecting the narrative, which pits the haves against the have-nots.
Remaining in the EU doesn’t necessarily mean the UK will start accepting more refugees or become a more tolerant society. But it shows that the campaign of hate and xenophobia hasn’t won. By staying in the EU we can be part of the solution, rather than the problem.
So, in the week that we celebrate world refugee day and in the build up to Britain’s EU referendum tomorrow I’ll be thinking about all my refugee friends around the world form Palestine to Canada, from Afghanistan to the UK and right here in Kenya. I’ll also be thinking about the thousands who have drowned crossing the med, those who are languishing in terrible conditions in camps around the world, those in detention centers and all the many more. I’ll be hoping that Britain votes remain, that we send a clear message of rejection to xenophobia and intolerance. A better world is possible but only if we stand together to demand it.