Christian Friis Bach in DR Congo - one of the countries that experienced the largest increase in displacement in 2017

Stop fighting refugees – fight the reasons they have to flee

Today is World Refugee Day. A day to remind world leaders that they should fight the root causes for displacement – instead of fighting to keep refugees and asylum seekers out of their countries. That is the message from the Danish Refugee Council's, Secretary General, Christian Friis Bach on June 20.


68.5 million people is displaced worldwide. The new figures from UNHCR, released yesterday, show that the number has increased with almost 3 million compared to last year. I usually say that the number of refugees in the world is an indicator of the condition of the world today. At this moment it is declining. For every person who has been forced to leave their home, it is a personal tragedy and for the world it is a huge loss of resources. It can be difficult to cope with the large numbers, but behind the vast numbers, are ordinary people like you and me.

One of them is Yara from Syria. She was only 14 years old when she witnessed their neighbor’s house being bombed completely. As she describes it: “Once, you’ve experienced war, you think that you will die any moment”

Mahmoud was born in a refugee camp in Iraq and has been displaced his whole life. But for Mahmoud the worst part is that his son, Aiad, is ill. When he was two years old, he lost all hair on his body. The family cannot afford to take him to a doctor and get a diagnosis, let alone treatment. They still do not know what condition Aiad is suffering from. But Mahmoud fears the worst and dreams of only one thing: That his son can receive medical care.

Alem is from East Africa, from a place where people are persecuted, tortured and killed every day. Alem has fled but her family is still in the country. If they try to escape, they risk rape, torture or detention in exchange for ransom from human smugglers.

These are only three examples. Three out of more than 68 million. But also three persons with each of their personal story and destiny. Three people who are more than just numbers.

Unfortunately, we see that many countries are fighting much harder to keep refugees out of their own countries than they are to fight the root causes that lead to displacement. That is one of the reasons why displacement is on the rise – and why people still show up at our borders asking for our protection.

In 2017, more than 44,000 people were forced to leave their home every day. That’s 1850 every hour. 31 every minute. One every other second.

The increase is due to several conflicts. The number of internally displaced persons doubled in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 4.4 million people in 2017. I recently visited DR Congo and heard the horrifying stories of sexual abuse of women and children, armed groups attacking villages and innocent persons who have lost everything.

Another reason to the record high number of refugees worldwide is that more than 600,000 people had to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh over the course of a few months. This was one of the fastest growing displacement crises in 2017. The Rohingyas needed acute humanitarian relief and protection, and the Danish Refugee Council set up an operation in Bangladesh during the fall of 2017. In addition, the situation in Syria continued to deteriorate, and for each Syrian returning home in 2017, another three were forced to flee.

Many European politicians discuss and focus primarily on pushing the challenges away from Europe. The latest example was from last week when the ship, Aquarius couldn’t enter Italy nor Malta, but thankfully Spain opened its door to these vulnerable persons. However, this is not a durable solution. And we do not get less displacement in the world by be unwilling to face the challenges – or by closing our borders.

There is only one way to ensure fewer people have to flee – and that is to fight the root causes in the countries where people flee from. In the countries plagued by long-term conflicts or a lack of respect for human rights. Two thirds of the world’s refugees originate from just five countries – if we could stop those conflicts, 70 percent of the world’s refugees would be able to return home.

The vast majority of the refugees in the world are hosted in some of the least developed areas of the world. We need to assist and treat both the refugees and hoist communities in these areas much better. They need to be treated with dignity and respect. And we should remember that the displaced themselves only have one wish: To return home or live a dignified life with prospects and a future. The international community can and must do more to ensure that their desire can be met. And then they must focus even more on preventing new conflicts from starting in the first place.

No matter how many refugees come to Denmark or other countries – and no matter how we treat them, we need to remember one thing: If refugees had a choice, they wouldn’t have fled their home. That is why I’m stressing; fight the root causes that lead to displacement in order to ensure less displacement and more solutions.