Public Services International - 20 June 2023 - World Refugee Day
We have surpassed the 100 million mark in forced displacement worldwide. Escalating conflicts, climate disasters, and rising cost of living exacerbated by the food and fuel crises are expected to drive forced displacement to unprecedented levels. This year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that 117 million people will be forcibly displaced.
Fleeing from violence, disasters and extreme poverty, refugees are taking on desperate routes. In the early part of this year, Mediterranean crossings have increased three-fold, with around 54,000 men, women and children taking on the dangerous boats to reach Europe. In the first three months alone, there were a recorded 400 deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. Other sea crossings are also seeing perilous journeys, such as in the English Channel, the Florida Keys in the US, the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal taken by thousands of fleeing Rohingya refugees. At the US-Mexico border, caravans of migrants and refugees are left in a limbo of violence and repression.
Sadly, the situation becomes more desperate as governments are taking on the opposite response, instituting policies that violate human rights and humanitarian law. In Europe and in the US, for example, deterrence, detention, collective expulsions and externalisation of borders to third countries have become the dominant policy.
According to UNHCR, there are around 32 million refugees and 5 million asylum seekers that need international protection. While temporary protection status has been offered to Ukrainian refugees, it is unfortunate that refugees of other nationalities are kept out. Despite the rhetoric, rich countries in the North are not opening safe routes and resettlement programmes for refugees. Developing countries that are also ravaged by conflicts and disasters continue to host 85% of the world’s refugees. Millions live in poor conditions in refugee camps for many years or even decades. Given this situation, it is not surprising that many have given up hope and are taking on the perilous journeys. They fall prey to human smugglers and traffickers who are profiting from the humanitarian crisis. In an equally worrying scenario, right wing politicians are using refugees and migrants as the scapegoats, stoking racism and xenophobia.
Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary says:
“On this World Refugee Day, we say no to a broken system of asylum and migration. We have enough of seeing more suffering and deaths of asylum seekers and refugees, who like all of us, are trying to survive the multiple social, political, environmental and economic crises that we are facing, albeit in a very disadvantaged position. As public service unions, we commemorate World Refugee Day with a strong message of solidarity, hope and inclusion.
We stand in solidarity with refugees. All refugees are welcome in our communities, our workplaces and our unions.
As public service workers on the frontlines of conflicts and disasters, we bring hope. Working with our allies, we shall rise through these crises, as we did during the pandemic. Whether protesting on the streets, negotiating with governments or lobbying international bodies, our struggle continues.
And finally, inclusion. We defend quality public services so that everyone, i.e. refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons and host communities can access the human right to basic services and social protection. We demand investment in public services, not weapons.
As we bring these messages, we urgently call on states to establish safe and legal pathways for asylum and migration. These pathways and measures must be human rights-based, child sensitive, gender-transformative, and free from any form of discrimination.