It is a sad indictment on Muslim leaders to permit such a situation to arise and, worse still, to ‘condone’ the situation, writes EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR.
‘THE forgotten people’ is a famous 1942 speech and campaign slogan by Robert Menzies, an Australian politician who later became prime minister of Australia, referring to the ordinary, ‘non-elite citizens’. It could be claimed that the majority of the world’s citizens fall into this category. They constitute the ‘forgotten people’.
The right to asylum is recognised in Islam. It promotes humanitarian principles, and views the granting of asylum as a duty of political leaders within the Muslim ummah. According to recent statistics released by the UNHRC, 82,4 million people have been forced to flee their homes ‘as a result of persecution, conflict, violence (ethnic, tribal and religious), human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order’ and natural phenomena, such as tsunamis and earthquakes.
A staggering one in every 95 people on earth have fled their homes. Millions have crossed national borders and live in nearby countries as refugees, and millions more remain within the borders of their country as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Of the 82,4 million, nearly 30 million are refugees and 48 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs). Half of the 48 million are under the age of 18 and at least half are female.
The following statistics indicate that the majority of refugees as well as internally displaced persons are Muslims. Nearly 70 per cent of refugees originate from just five countries; the majority (48 per cent) are from two Muslim countries – Syria (27 per cent) and Afghanistan (11 per cent) – and the remainder (32 per cent) shared between Sudan, Venezuela and Myanmar. The total number of refugees in the Muslim world exceeds 12 million.
The countries with the largest internally displaced persons are Syria (7,6 million), Colombia (6 million), Iraq (3,6 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2,8 million), Sudan (2,2 million), South Sudan (1,9 million), Pakistan (1,4 million), Nigeria (1,2 million) and Somalia (1,1 million). Of the total number of IDPs (26,6 million) nearly 16 million (60 per cent) are persons displaced within Muslim countries. This means that one in 140 people living in the Muslim world is a refugee and one in 100 is internally displaced.
Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of the refugees are hosted by countries neighbouring their countries of origin, as many as 86 per cent by developing countries. In the Muslim world, the majority have found refuge in low- and middle-income countries, while the number admitted to some of the OIC’s wealthiest states is significantly smaller.
In the past decade, Turkey has provided protection to more refugees than any other country – as many as 4,3 million. The vast majority of these refugees are from neighbouring Syria. While a comparatively small number has returned to Syria or has resettled in other countries, there are still more than 660 000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan today.
Several countries, such as Pakistan and Jordan, have quite large refugee populations, particularly from Palestine and Iraq, and have been very generous in allowing refugees to stay, albeit without the status of refugees. Many communities throughout the Muslim world are also hosting large refugee populations.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides relief and development assistance to over 4,6 million displaced Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Around 30 million internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum-seekers live in Africa, representing almost one-third of the world’s refugee population. Uganda has the largest number of refugees, followed by Sudan and Ethiopia. South Africa hosts 250 250 refugees and asylum-seekers. They are mainly drawn from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Many of these refugees are Muslim.
Let us turn to the general conditions of the refugees. Approximately 22 per cent of the world’s refugee population live in refugee camps – an estimated 6,6 million people. Around 4,5 million reside in planned and managed camps, and approximately two million are sheltered in self-settled camps.
The following are the most common challenges facing refugees: difficulty speaking and learning English; raising children and helping them succeed in school; securing work; securing housing; accessing services; transportation; cultural barriers. Women face additional challenges, such as physical abuse, sexual violence and human trafficking.
There is a considerable number of IDPs throughout the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Aside from Sudan and Iraq, which host the overwhelming majority of IDPs, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Cote d’Ivoire are among the other countries hosting IDPs.
Displaced persons suffer significantly higher rates of mortality than the general population. They also remain at high risk of physical attack, sexual assault and abduction, and frequently are deprived of adequate shelter, food and health services.
While there are many humanitarian organisations, including Muslim, taking care of refugees and internally displaced persons, it is a sad indictment on Muslim leaders to permit such a situation to arise and, worse still, to ‘condone’ the situation. They should create conditions which will not drive their people out of their countries or displace them within their countries. Their focus should be on reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction.