By Muhammad Moeez Tariq
Movement of Refugees-A Threat to the World?
A refugee is defined as someone who is “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it” 1by the Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention (1950). These asylum seekers due to the socio-political situations of their home nations cross the borders, in order to seek protection and peace. Most nations admit these refugees to showcase solidarity and sympathy towards the affected. Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran are the top five nations that have provided protection to their fellow brethren,2 according to a report by Al-Jazeera. On the other hand, there are nations such as Ireland, who refuse to open borders for the affected because of the chaos and atrocity they bring with them.
There have always been clashes between groups of religious extremists. Such fights, which are caused due to difference in opinions and religions, lead to chaos and anarchy which results in the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents. To save their lives, the innocent flee to neighboring countries. The world witnessed this when the clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic grew so violent, that 450,000+ locals were forced to leave their homes and cross the borders to seek protection in Chad.
Civil wars and anti-government demonstrations do not lag behind when talking about the causes of the refugee crises. Such incidents lead to strict enforcement of peace keeping laws and thus the lives of the locals become miserable. Even the law-abiding are deemed as hostile by the peace keeping forces and a curfew-like situation develops, making it hard for people to survive and thus they flee, seeking asylum. 5.2million 3Syrians looking for shelter in places such as Lebanon, Jordon and northern Iraq is the perfect example of border crossing due to civil wars.
War with other countries and lethal attacks by the opposition forces the civilians to flee their country in search of safety and peace. An example of such an incident would be when USA and its coalition forces attacked Iraq to disarm Iraq and free the civilians from the tyrannical rule of its leaders. According to a report of United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), 264000+ Iraqi civilians were refugees across borders, in 2015.
The countries that cater to the needs of the refugees go through a lot of difficulties such as, but not limited to, social, environmental, political and financial problems. These countries witness unforeseen changes in the pattern of the daily lives of the locals, which also affects the economy of the country and disrupts peace. Problems are aggravated when the number of refugees is close to or more than the local population, if not the national population. “In the United Republic of Tanzania, the recent refugee influxes meant that the local population was outnumbered by a ratio of approximately 4: 1; i.e. there were some 700,000 refugees among a local population of 186,000.” 4
It is not only the refugees that cross the borders. They bring with them many problems that lead the host country to its downfall. With the admission of refugees a new wave of problems arrive in a country and the national and regional authorities of the host nation are forced to divert their attention, resources and man power, to ensure the survival of the refugees and the security of the locals, which were at first being used to counter some other more pressing issues. One of the biggest problems that arises, is that with their arrival, the fight for already scarce food, water and land starts. The constant supply and increased demand leads to inflammation which, obviously, affects the poorest of the country. The shortage of such resources in a specific area or region also affects the distribution of goods as that area requires more and thus the markets of other regions of the host country are affected. To overcome the shortage, food is imported and that results in the negative balance of trade. Although the host nation agrees to provide asylum for the refugees but are reluctant to pay out of their own pockets. They expect aid and compensation from the international community but are forced to use from the budget they had set aside for important developmental projects, which in turn affects the growth of the host nation.
The environmental and infrastructural problems cannot be overlooked when talking about consequences of the movement of refugees. Building communities takes a lot of planning, to ensure that everything is accessible for people and the planning also takes into account the environment, making sure that as little damage to the environment is done as possible. The mass movement of refugees and their settlement does not allow proper planning and this leads to heavy damage to the environment. The sudden increase in usage of scarce resources such as fuel, specially fossil fuel and firewood, affects the resources’ sustainable regeneration and they might deplete sooner than expected because of high demand and higher exploitation rates. Acquiring food via alternate methods such as fruit collection, hunting, foraging food stocks also adds extra pressure on the environment. The construction of roofs of settlements lead to a further increase in the usage of wood resources and thus increasing pressure on woodlands.
The road network that surrounds the areas which hosts the refugees undergo accelerated deterioration, as the usage of such roads increase for supplying resources and commodities to the refugees. For example the Islamic Republic of Pakistan witnessed the wearing of roads and canals and the increased usage of food and fodder. Many of the refugees brought with them livestock, which grazed the fields of the host areas, leading to overgrazing and later soil erosion and decreased capacity of the ground to renew its ground water resources.
Social and religious status of the refugees decides whether if they are compatible to the new culture of the host nation. When the refugees belong to the same ethnic group as the hosts then the settling is comparatively easier and seamless. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, over 400,000 refugees have been housed with people who gladly accepted refugees in their homes because the guests and hosts belonged to the same ethnic groups. This is because they understand and feel sympathetic towards the situation of these asylum seeking brethren. The difference in ethnicity and religion leads to problems as different background and different language can result in negatively affected communications. Serious and strong barriers can develop due to the lack of communication.
The individual locals feel insecure since they see the refugees getting accommodations that they do not have and this leads to protests against the governments. The health sector such as the hospitals is heavily affected as the number of patients increase due to lack of hygienic conditions among the refugees. The competition for limited doctors is also seen and thus many locals do not get treatment at the right time. The mass movement of people in a certain area and their poor conditions might give rise to security problems and crime such as theft and murder for resources. Other problems such as alcoholism and prostitution might also be seen on the rise. The refugees smuggle arms and drugs into the host nation due to no strict border checks and thus the sale of these smuggled objected might cause uproar and disrupt peace in host nation.
The consequences of movement of refugees are not always negative. Agencies that help in development are attracted since the host area is the centre of attention. To facilitate the government, infrastructure might be developed and this can help by acting as a catalyst to start the development which might not have reached these marginal areas. Apart from this, the refugees bring with them skills and knowledge which might help the locals such as in the industrial sector in the form of cheap labor. Educated refugees help in the education sector, as teachers. The markets also benefit as more of the local products are bought and used. Consumption of local products means that the demands of the population can be met by the country, so there is no stress on importing raw material or products. This sometimes leads to correction of the balance of trade that was affected by the importing of food.
Most of the refugees of the world are present in Less Developed countries (LDCs). These countries are not as economically stable as the developed countries. So much stress on the LDCs can lead to the downfall of their economy. The perfect solution to this threat is the developed countries taking responsibility and admitting the refugees so that there is an equal distribution of refugees and no stress on a particular nation. International aid is something that can help a lot. If a country pays out of its own pockets then it would suffer and thus international aid can help them minimize their loss. Strict border checks to ensure that no smuggling is done. Providing the refugees with equal footing as the locals so they can compete in the open market for jobs and support their families on the basis of their skills and merits, can also help reduce the dependency and crime rate. Taking in the refugees that belong to the same cultural or religious background would increase communications and decrease the threat of ethnic wars. Increasing the growth of cash crops in order to increase food supply and thus reducing the chances of inflammation. Proper planning before allowing refugees to settle so that less damage to the environment is done. Using alternate routes so that there is no over usage of roads. Strict enforcement of forest laws to ensure no damage to the environment
What happens if these problems are not solved?
The Least Developed Countries face economic problems and their development stops. Less output of industries and less trade will also affect the countries that are dependent on the host nations for exported products. The infrastructure is destroyed and it would take a lot of finances to restore. Environment suffers and less trees plus increased usage of fossil fuels would lead to pollution and hence global warming and the world will suffer. Political instability as the worsening conditions of the host nation could lead to debates related to the decisions the government took. Overthrown governments would mean change in foreign policies and thus other countries will be affected. Security issues and unforeseen changes would lead the locals to being insecure and their lives will be endangered. Ethnic violence will lead to a set of whole new problems for the host country and the attention of the government will be divided from the main problem which is the survival of refugees.
Problems that lead the locals to seek asylum in other countries should be avoided, but if it ever occurs then it should be tried that the damage to the environment and the host nation should be minimized as much as possible. It becomes the responsibility of the international community to aid the host country to reduce all the negative impacts of the movement of refugees. Most of the challenges are unforeseen and thus have to be met by developmental assistance and by safeguarding the institution of asylum. This response would be evidence of the burden sharing and solidarity with the refugees and the developing countries which have a limited number of resources.