World Refugee Day

On World Refugee Day, Now Is the Wrong Time to Turn Your Back

As the global refugee displacement burden grows - with 10 million new people displaced in 2016 alone - the call for long-term solutions from the international community only grows louder.
June 20, 2017, 3:46pm
Photo via the IRC

This is an opinion piece by the International Rescue Committee

Today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) releases its annual
calculus of the world's displaced population. This year's reaches a grim milestone, with 65.6 million people - including over 22 million refugees and over 40 million internally-displaced persons – fleeing for their lives. Twenty people, half of whom are children, are forced to flee their homes every minute. This is the equivalent of an entire country on the run from war and disaster, bigger than the population of the United Kingdom and twice that of Canada. What's more, the scale of displacement has nearly doubled over the past twenty years - from nearly 34 million in 1997- as decade-old conflicts like Afghanistan, Iraq and Democratic Republic of Congo continue to burn, and newer conflicts like Syria and South Sudan drive the grimmest spikes of human suffering.

As the global refugee displacement burden grows - with 10 million new people displaced in 2016 alone - the clarion call for concerted, and long-term, solutions from the international community only grows louder. And yet, as the number of those forced to flee worldwide reaches unacceptable heights, and the deficit in funding for the world's largest crises reaches a $10 billion gap, the Trump administration seeks to slash foreign aid by a third. The proposed budget for 2018 will have life and death consequences for the world's most vulnerable, and put the health, security and prosperity of Americans in peril. Here are four ways the Trump administration aid cuts put America – and the world- at risk.

Doubling the global famine

As we write, 30 million are on the brink of starvation in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeastern Nigeria, a development the United Nations is calling the biggest humanitarian crisis in its history. U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien does not mince words: "Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death."

More than 250,000 lives—more than the population of Salt Lake City—were lost six years ago when the international community failed to muster the resources to respond to the last, and much smaller, famine in the Horn of Africa. The Trump Administration's proposal to drastically reduce food aid and food security programming would impact an additional 30 million people, effectively doubling the global famine.

Halving education and gender programs

An estimated 62 million children are out of school in countries affected by crisis. Only 50 percent of refugee children have access to a classroom. Girls are disproportionately affected by a lack of education in times of crisis- the first to be pulled out of school, and twice as likely as their male counterparts despite the fact that just one year of primary education increases a girl's income by as much as 20%. Education is a lifesaving activity in crisis situations, not only providing children with the tools to survive the moment, but also to thrive in the future: it is an investment in the peace, stability and economic growth of their home countries.


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The Trump administration wants to cut both education and gender programming by over 50 percent, completely eliminating education programs in 17 countries (including those in South Africa, Rwanda and Nicaragua) and condemning at least 2 million girls to a life without education.

Abandoning the world's refugees

With 65 million people displaced and 93 million in need of assistance, the world faces humanitarian needs of unprecedented scale. In Syria, half of the country's population has fled and at least 500,000 have died in an inimitably cruel civil war. It's hard to imagine how American allies like Jordan, which host 84% of the world's refugees, will fare with less American assistance. One need only look to Europe, and the crumbling stability of its union, to realize that the Syrian crisis extends beyond the Middle East.

The Trump Administration has proposed reductions in international disaster, migration and refugee assistance that would cut off over 11 million men, women and children—including nearly 2 million Syrians and over 3 million Yemenis—from basic assistance like food, water and shelter, exacerbating human suffering and the duration and severity of dangerous conflicts.

Increasing the risk of pandemics

Each year, millions of people, particularly women and children, die from preventable causes in countries affected by conflict and natural disaster. Most of these deaths are the result of disruptions related to crisis: poor sanitation, shortages of food and medicine, and inadequate prevention. Moreover, experts
have warned that the world is at greater risk than ever of experiencing large-scale pandemics such as Zika, that affected 24 regions in 2015 and 2016, and Ebola, that claimed 11,000 lives in West Africa in 2014.

In the past, cuts to global health programs and institutions led to major reductions in their outbreak, emergency and surveillance capacity. This played a central role in the slowed response to the Ebola crisis, which cost the US nearly $2.4 billion. The Trump administration is proposing cutting funding needed to prevent four million new HIV, TB and malaria infections – three of the world's deadliest diseases – as well as more than 30,000 maternal and child deaths per year. Moreover, the cuts would increase the likelihood of a global pandemic capable of claiming twice as many American lives as the total number of US battlefield fatalities since 1776 - over 2 million.

The impact of these cuts would be swift, devastating, and felt for years to come, imperiling lives and the course of global stability. Congress must ensure that its budget safeguards America's vital interests, and that it reflects our longstanding bipartisan commitment to the world's most vulnerable. The time to turn our backs is not today.

On World Refugee Day, the IRC and our partners (including VICE Impact) are taking actions aimed at bringing hope and humanity to a world that is torn apart. Together, we are standing with refugees – and encouraging others to do so. Learn more to take action here.