LONDON: Even before the war in Gaza led to the displacement of some 1.9 million people, the world was already in the throes of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, with conflicts, crises and climate catastrophes forcing people from their homes.
More than 114 million people are now on the move worldwide, up from 75 million in 2019, with conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and the Sahel, drought on the Horn of Africa, and economic crises from Lebanon to Venezuela sending people in search of security.
In response to these immense challenges, which have significant implications for the economies of host and transit nations, the UN has organized its latest Global Refugee Forum in Geneva — its first since the pandemic — which ran from Dec. 13 to Dec. 15.
“The Global Refugee Forum is taking place at a time when displacement around the world is at record levels,” Ezekiel Simperingham, the global lead on migration and displacement for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Arab News.
“This is compounded by climate change, conflict and diseases, but the needs of refugees and other displaced people are urgent and complex.”
The forum’s opening sessions on Wednesday were dominated by the issue of Gaza, where the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which began on Oct. 7, has led to the displacement of some 85 percent of Gazans.
Opening the forum with a call for an immediate ceasefire, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, warned that continued fighting would only add to the number of globally displaced.
“A major human catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza and, so far, the (UN) Security Council has failed to stop the violence,” Grandi said in his opening remarks, referring to Washington’s recent veto of a motion calling for a ceasefire.
He warned that further displacement in a region already saturated with refugees from multiple ongoing conflicts posed a major threat to security and stability.
His comments reflected a tweet he posted earlier in the week warning that “massive displacement” beyond Gaza’s borders would not only be “catastrophic for Palestinians, who know the trauma of exile” but impossible to solve, “further jeopardizing any chance of peace.”
Since Hamas launched its unprecedented cross-border attack on the towns of southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostage, the Gaza Strip has come under sustained bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Although the IDF’s stated aim is to destroy Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, Israel’s military campaign has come at the cost of some 17,000 lives, the majority of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Some Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, have accused Israel of trying to drive the Palestinians out of Gaza altogether in a repeat of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which saw the population forced from their homes to make way for the new Israeli state.
If Gaza’s two-million strong population were to spill out into Egypt and other neighboring countries, it is likely they would never be permitted to return, making the possibility of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel even less likely.
Such a wave of dispossessed humanity would also place an immense burden on the shoulders of neighboring countries, which already host vast numbers of Palestinians alongside millions displaced by the war in Syria.
Speaking at the Global Refugee Forum, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said that the world must not turn its back on the displaced or on host nations, warning that a failure to act risked “leaving a lost generation behind.”
“Instead of making headway in resolving this ever-evolving and expanding refugee crisis, and even as new displacement crises emerge, we see attention waning. We can’t afford for this to continue,” he said, citing the 1.4 million Syrians including 650,000 refugees hosted by Jordan.
Abdullah pointed to what he called a model of “fluctuating support” from governments in Europe and the wider Western world, where refugees have at times been welcomed, as in the case of Ukrainians, and at other times refused entry. AP
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