World guilty of ‘shameful’ failure on refugees, says Amnesty

Rich nations rank political interests above the rights of those fleeing conflict, says rights group Amnesty International 

World leaders are turning their backs on millions of refugees and condemning thousands more to death by failing to offer protection to those uprooted by war, violence and persecution, Amnesty International said Monday.

The rights group accused rich nations of ranking political interests above the rights of those fleeing conflict, in refusing to offer shelter to refugees or give sufficient aid to host countries and humanitarian agencies.

More than 1 million refugees are in urgent need of resettlement, with the number of those forcibly displaced from their homes exceeding 50 million, the highest figure since World War II.

“We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis of our era, with millions of men, women and children struggling to survive amid brutal wars, networks of people traffickers and governments who pursue selfish political interests instead of showing basic human compassion,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general, said in a report released ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20. “The response of the international community has been a shameful failure.”

The rights group has called for a radical overhaul in the way the world deals with refugees, to include the launch of a global fund to meet UN appeals and give financial support to host countries, and a pledge from world leaders to resettle 1 million of the most vulnerable refugees over the next four years.

The outline also called for a shake-up of domestic systems used by countries to assess refugee claims, to ensure refugees have access to basic services such as education and healthcare during the processing period.

“Now is the time to step up protection for refugees,” said Shetty. “Anything less will make world leaders accomplices in this preventable tragedy.”

Syria has the largest refugee population under UN care, stemming from a bloody civil war that in March entered its fifth year. More than 4 million have fled the country, with 95 per cent hosted in just five neighbouring states: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The exodus has stretched receiving nations and aid agencies to breaking point, Amnesty said. The rest of the world has offered to take just 87,442 refugees.

“The world can no longer sit and watch while countries like Lebanon and Turkey take on such huge burdens,” Shetty said. “No country should be left to deal with a massive humanitarian emergency with so little help from others.”

Syria’s conflict has also deflected attention from protracted crises in Africa and South East Asia, the group said. There are more than 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, where outbreaks of fighting in South Sudan and the Central African Republic have contributed to a surge in the number of people fleeing their homes. In 2013, fewer than 15,000 refugees from African countries were resettled. As of June 3, just 11 per cent of the UN’s appeal for $809.9m to support refugees in South Sudan, was funded.

Amnesty also called for Europe to commit to receiving significantly higher numbers of refugees and to open up new legal routes for both migrants and those escaping conflict, to help stem the thousands of migrants who risk crossing the Mediterranean each year in often rickety boats.

In 2014, some 3,500 people died attempting the sea crossing. In the first five months of this year, 1,865 people perished while trying to reach Europe’s shores.

“The current refuge crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognises that it is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation,” said Shetty. “It is time for action.”