Today is World Refugee Day, established by the U.N. in 2000 together with World Migrant Day (Dec. 18). Migrants and refugees, a particular set.
One becomes recognized as a refugee if born Palestinian or, if and when, an asylum request is granted beyond the borders of the own country. In theory, the application must be granted if the individual is fleeing from civil war or persecution (because of nationality, political opinion, religion, membership to a particular social group, such as homosexuals, or ancestry). Until the application is granted, the person remains an asylum seeker.
At the end of 2016, there were 5.3 million Palestinian refugees under the mandate of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), 17.2 million refugees under the mandate of another U.N. agency UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and 2.8 million asylum seekers.
The internally displaced people comprise another category, those who are refugees within their own state, even for environmental and climatic reasons (because of “natural” disasters). At the end of 2015, there were 40.3 million.
All these 65.6 million are nevertheless “forced migrants” who have not seen their right to remain where they were born and raised respected (by more or less conscious human behavior). Very similar data was obtained in 2015, and the Syrian crisis presents the most dramatic situation.
Are there any other forced migrants who are not included in the statistics?
Unfortunately, yes: environmental and climate refugees who have gone across the border of their countries (often due to slower and less sudden disasters, like the rise of the seas and desertification); victims of smaller disasters not taken into account by the organization that accounts for the victims and homeless; persecuted people who do not claim asylum for various reasons; forced “illegal” migrants (victims of human trafficking and organ trafficking, prostitution, slavery); those who died dramatically during the persecution, before being able to reach the border or seek asylum along their trek (for example in the Sahara or in the Mediterranean); and those detained in refugee camps.
Apply, see if the application is accepted or rejected, become a refugee. These are the steps of an official process for persons of flesh and blood, with a name, nationality of origin and state, who then have to live with a status that remains unchanged for decades.
However, they are not the only refugees, the only international refugees. Those who have tried to count the “others” with a scientific approach, have put together numbers that, for over a decade, are greater every year than the numbers of “political” refugees. If any of them seeks asylum, he or she must do so on the basis of emergencies covered by the national constitutions of the country to which they apply (unfortunately, Italy has never approved the law foreseen in Article 10 of its constitution).
At least for some of them, this would be the right time to obtain international recognition, to get assigned a specific status other than UNHCR, regulated by a multilateral or European agreement. I am referring, in particular, to climate refugees, those forced to flee from their residence due to some certified effects of global anthropogenic climate change (rise of sea levels, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, water stress in already dry and arid areas).
The Pope suggested their recognition in an encyclical, and it seems the urgency is now inescapable: Their past, present and future escapes are linked to production and consumption decisions that often took place in a completely different part of the world and the subsequent excessive emission of greenhouse gases. We are responsible for their flight and we should also be jointly responsible to ensure that their flight does not mean death or slavery.
The topic discussed less when the annual UNHCR reports are published is the number of years lived in (mortifying) conditions in refugee camps. We need to understand that today’s Palestinians are children of children of children of refugees; the status forced on their families 70 years ago has never stopped. They remain so for generations.
Most of the other refugees, some of whom remain in the applicant status for several years, spend over five years in camps.
UNHCR estimates that 6.7 million are placed in 32 long stay groups, each group of at least 25,000 individuals from the same country of origin who have been in exile for at least five years in the same country, a growing number. This is considered a protracted displacement situation. In the case of 11 groups, they have spent over 30 years in exile; for 12 groups, between 20 and 30 years; and for nine groups, it has been over 10 and less than 20.
And millions of long-term refugees must be added. There are groups smaller than 25,000 people, if we take into account those who change exile locations or other variables outside of the statistics. More than half of refugees remain so for over 10 years.