68.5 million people in the world are displaced due to wars, conflict and persecution – a new high in 2017 for the fifth year in a row, an UNHCR report published on World Refugee Day (20 June) revealed.
In a series of events across Brussels to mark the Day, NGOs called for a policy change towards a Common European Asylum System that lives up to its name.
According to the annual UN Global Trends report this is an equivalent of 44,500 people being displaced each day, or a person becoming displaced every two seconds. The main causes for the dramatic rise in numbers are the crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan’s ongoing war, and the flight into Bangladesh from Myanmar of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.
The number of asylum-seekers, who are still awaiting the outcome of their claims to refugee status as of 31 December 2017, rose by around 300,000 to 3.1 million.
The number of countries hosting a large number of refugees, however, remains low, the report indicates: in absolute numbers, Turkey accommodates the biggest population of 3.5 million refugees, Lebanon on the other hand hosts the largest number of refugees relative to its national population. The report concludes that 63% of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility were distributed across 10 countries.
The UNHCR report counters the widespread assumption that the northern industrial nations are the main destination for refugees – only every seventh refugee makes their journey to Europe’s north.
Meanwhile, another report titled ‘Forgotten at the gates of Europe’, issued by the NGO JRS Europe draws upon the challenges on Europe’s borders. Based on data from 6 countries and more than 100 interviews, the NGO asked migrants about their journey to Europe, their experience at the border, and in the territory of the country.
The report finds that violent push-backs still happen at several EU external borders, such as between Croatia and Serbia as well as in the Spanish exclave of Melilla.
“Authorities know that they violate the law, very often border officers are not up to date with legal technicalities, basic practical things, and the proper reading of legal standards,” says Minos Mouzourakis of ECRE, an Alliance of NGOs in Brussels that monitors the ways asylum policies are applied in practice.
Meanwhile, according to the numbers, most refugees still make their journey by sea.
“When we see the numbers decrease coming over the sea, there is the notion of: yes, we are saving lives, but where do they actually stay?”, asked Claudia Bonamini, policy and advocacy officer of JRS Europe, presenting the report.
Over 3,100 people died at sea in 2017, and over 500 have died or gone missing since the beginning of 2018, according to Stefan Maier from the UNHCR’s Regional Representation for EU Affairs.
The report suggests that the Dublin Regulation is a main obstacle to protection in Europe, as a large number of asylum seekers refrain from applying for asylum status not because they do not need protection, but because they fear the Dublin Regulation would deny them the chance to reunify their families in other member states.
JRS Europe calls for reform of the Dublin Regulation where preferences are considered and new standards that would ensure safe and legal pathways that would guarantee dignified reception conditions and swift asylum procedures.
“What do we ask for? To cancel the hypocritical criterium of country of first entry, otherwise Italy and Greece will remain the only point of access on even more dangerous routes,” argued MEP Elly Schlein, shadow rapporteur of the Socialists and Democrats Group for the Dublin Regulation reform speaking during an event in Brussels.
Emphasizing the need for more coherent approaches on migration and trade policies, Schlein said that “when there is talk about help in the countries, this is hypocritical because the reasons why they flee are way closer to us than we think.”
Work on trade agreements, tackling tax havens, development policies and aid must go hand in hand with other policies, she argued.