8 ways to solve the world refugee crisis

Protecting refugees is not somebody else’s problem

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A broken system

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The world’s system for protecting refugees is broken. It is obvious - from Australia to South Sudan’s vast camps, from Istanbul’s cold streets to the European Union’s heavily fortified walls.

Worldwide, more than 21 million people have been forced to seek sanctuary abroad. Governments have a duty to help them. But most rich countries are still treating refugees as somebody else’s problem. Hiding behind closed borders and fears of being “flooded”, they have conveniently allowed poorer, mainly Middle Eastern, African and South Asian countries, to host an incredible 86% of all refugees.

And by ignoring most appeals for humanitarian aid, they have left UN agencies so broke they can’t even feed many refugees properly anymore.

This has to change, now. Amnesty is putting forward eight solutions for how world leaders – in particular the richest countries – can start tackling this massive humanitarian crisis together.

Amnesty International
People are dying while governments spend billions on border control

The world refugee crisis in numbers


People who are refugees worldwide


Percentage of all refugees who should be resettled every year

Ahmad Al-Matar, a cardiologist from Hassaka in Syria, pictured with his wife and their daughters, Preševo, Serbia, September 2015. © Giles Clarke/Getty Images Reportage

Eight ways to solve the crisis

1. Opening up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees is one important solution. That means allowing people to reunite with their relatives, and giving refugees visas so they don’t have to spend their life savings and risk drowning to reach safety.

2. It also means resettling all refugees who need it. Resettlement is a vital solution for the most vulnerable refugees – including torture survivors and people with serious medical problems.

Right now, 1.2 million people urgently need this lifeline

Migrants pass food dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in the Andaman sea, 14 May 2015. Migrants pass food dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in the Andaman sea, 14 May 2015.
Migrants pass food dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in the Andaman sea, 14 May 2015. ©AFP/Getty Images

Saving lives

3. World leaders also need to put saving lives first. No one should have to die crossing a border, and yet almost 7,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean alone in the two years since the first big shipwreck in October 2013. 

Thousands of people fleeing persecution in Myanmar suffered for weeks on board boats while Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia bickered over who should help them in May 2015.

States can stop this by investing in search and rescue operations and immediately helping people in distress.

4. And whether they travel by land or by sea, people fleeing persecution or wars should be allowed to cross borders, with or without travel documents. Pushing people back and putting up massive fences only forces them to take more dangerous routes to safety.

Tension at the Hungarian border

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A Spanish civil guard tries to pull down an African man climbing the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, 15 October 2014. ©REUTERS

Stop trafficking and racism

5. All countries should investigate and prosecute trafficking gangs who exploit refugees and migrants, and put people’s safety above all else. Survivors whom Amnesty met in Southeast Asia said traffickers killed people on board boats when their families couldn’t pay ransoms. Others were thrown overboard and left to drown, or died from because there was no food and water.

6. Governments also need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for economic and social problems, and instead combat all kinds of xenophobia and racial discrimination. Doing otherwise is deeply unfair, stirs up tensions and fear of foreigners, and sometimes leads to violence – even death.

In Durban, South Africa, at least four people died, many were seriously injured, and over 1,000 mainly Burundian and Congolese refugees forced to flee after violence and looting broke out in April and May 2015.  

Start funding 'broke' UN properly

7. “Financially broke” is how Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described UN agencies in September 2015. Wealthy countries quite simply aren’t keeping their high-profile promises to fund aid for refugees abroad.

For example, the UN has received less than half the funding it needs to support Syria’s 4 million refugees. This is now forcing 80% of refugees living outside camps in Jordan to do dangerous, degrading jobs or send their children out to beg.

South Sudan’s forgotten refugee crisis has been met with a pitiful 18% of the money needed for absolute basics like food and medicine.

People are dying while governments spend billions on border control. They urgently need to guarantee full funding to alleviate refugee crises worldwide.

© Amnesty International (Photo: Richard Burton)

Thousands of people march through central London to show support for refugees, 12 September 2015. © Amnesty International

Asylum is a human right

8. The world has a very short memory. In the aftermath of World War II, most countries agreed to protect refugees through the 1951 Refugee Convention, and through UN agencies like the UNHCR.

Barbed wire fences and chronic underfunding have left that vision of a better world in tatters. By ignoring the warning signs, world leaders have allowed a huge, global humanitarian crisis to unfold. Ultimately, it will be resolved by ending the conflicts and persecution that forced people to flee in the first place.

But no one knows when that will be. Meanwhile, we need radical solutions, visionary leadership and global co-operation on a scale not seen for 70 years. That involves setting up strong refugee systems: allowing people to apply for asylum, treating their refugee claims fairly, resettling the most vulnerable of all, and providing basics like education and healthcare.

None of these eight solutions are impossible to achieve, if politicians listen to the millions of people saying “I welcome refugees”, and put solidarity and compassion above petty wrangling over who should host a few thousand refugees.

© Amnesty International
Amnesty International
None of these eight solutions are impossible to achieve, if politicians listen to the millions of people saying 'refugees welcome!'