The frozen body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying face-down on Turkish beach two years back brought out the horror of a human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe. The nauseating sight of people drowning in Mediterranean Sea, one of the deadliest routes opted by refugees and asylum seekers, as over-crowded boats capsize, pricks the conscience of the world. The spectacle of exhausted, hungry and dying Rohingya running for life from the riot-hit Myanmar a few months back still haunts our memories. The cries of millions of people being forced out of their homes, risking everything, to escape conflict, disaster, poverty or hunger are getting shriller.
More than 65 million people around the world are now officially displaced from their homes by conflict, violence and persecution – the highest figure recorded by the United Nations since the Second World War. In 2015, around 700,000 people came to Europe seeking sanctuary. More than three million refugees and migrants arrived in the European Union in 2016. More than 420,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and flooded refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017. In Nigeria, the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram has forced 1.8 million people to flee their homes and search for safety in other parts of the country. Lebanon, a tiny country with 4.5 million people, is struggling to host 1.2 million Syrian refugees. These numbers speak volumes of the refugee crisis the world faces.
Here comes the relevance of Pope Francis’s message, marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 14. He has urged the world not to abdicate its responsibility but to positively respond to the cries of the forcibly displaced and excluded. It was in 1914 that Pope Pius X instituted the World Day of Refugees and Migrants. As the world marks its 104th year, the situation is no better and the plight of the refugees today makes the observance of the day more relevant.
‘The New York Declaration’, signed by 193 Member States (including India), under the auspices of the United National General Assembly in September 2016 states: “We declare our profound solidarity with, and support for, the millions of people in different parts of the world who, for reasons beyond their control, are forced to uproot themselves and their families from their homes.” But, on the ground, the realities are different. Many countries have been unwilling to open their borders for the fleeing refugees. Some of their concerns are genuine.
Several countries are apprehensive of the conduct of the refugees entering their land. Many are coming from countries where jihadists and extremists rule the roost. Some of the refugees could be part of a game plan to create mayhem in the host country. Fearmongers talk up the threat of a spike in terrorism. Some oppose entry of refugees on the plea that asylum seekers just want to steal jobs or bleed the welfare system dry; xenophobes warn that Europe’s cultural identity is at risk. Despite these fears and uneasiness, Pope Francis’s appeal to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and migrants should be the key to deal with this global existential crisis.(Published on 15th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 03)