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May 13, 2019

Away from home


May 13, 2019

Around 38 million people were displaced from their homes in 2018, forced to live outside their home country or internally displaced within it. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, this brings the total number of displaced persons in the world to 41.3 million, the highest number recorded in the world. The presence of so many people with no place that they can call home is a reminder of the misery and suffering of millions, with large-scale displacements coming as a result of conflict in Syria and tensions in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries.

Most of the new displacements in 2018 took place in Ethiopia, with 2.9 million people fleeing their homes as a result of clashes often sparked by land disputes. Unsurprisingly, Syria was second on the list, with 1.6 million new internal displacements. Over the last eight years, 6.1 million people have been internally displaced, and an equal number now live as refugees. The fate of Syrian refugees is recorded in many places, with those seeking a place safe from war being turned away from one country after the other in a world that remains largely indifferent to displacement and its horrors. Those displaced globally include the 17.2 million people displaced by natural disasters, including tropical cyclones, floods and fires.

Pakistan should be a country sensitive to displacement. Today, it continues to harbor a population of just under 200,000 people displaced by conflict in tribal areas or by natural disasters in other parts of the country. We often forget the existence of these people and the situations they live in. There has been too little attention to their plight and also to the tensions which emerge as a result of their presence within host communities. Just as is the case in Pakistan, the world too does little for the displaced. In theory, it is possible for developed nations to absorb many of these people, especially since the conflicts they escape often arise from policies devised in the West. But of course in practical terms, this does not happen for reasons related to economics, geopolitics, and ugly racism. The refugees of today continue to experience this as did those in former years, and internal displacement does not mean life is any easier. Being away from home for forced periods of time involuntarily is not easy for anyone. It creates a huge number of psychological and social problems, as well as economic ones. The world needs to rethink the situation for those who have been displaced and find ways to ease their misery and where possible to facilitate a return to the places they left behind.

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