Why it’s the most dangerous time to be a refugee

This World Refugee Day, refugees are more vulnerable than ever. So are those hosting them.

Syrian survivor Mohammad, 18, who was rescued with other refugees and migrants at open sea off Greece after their boat capsized, reunites with his brother Fadi, inside a reception and identification camp in Malakasa, Greece, June 18, 2023. REUTERS/Stelios Misinas
Syrian survivor Mohammad, 18, who was rescued with other refugees and migrants in open sea off Greece after their boat capsized, reunites with his brother Fadi inside a reception and identification camp in Malakasa, Greece, on June 18, 2023 [Stelios Misinas/Reuters]

Amid political turmoil, the British government is telling the country’s people that it wants to “stop the boats” – that is, they want to stop people entering the country through informal means.

Meanwhile, across the sea in Ireland, a country which had managed to escape any significant far-right presence throughout the 20th century is now seeing growing anti-refugee sentiment.

As we mark World Refugee Day, these are sadly no longer exceptions. Our NGO, Action For Humanity, works in some of the biggest refugee-hosting nations in the world – and they, too, are seeing anti-refugee rhetoric worsening, with dangerous implications.

In Lebanon, the country which has the highest number of refugees per capita, tensions are rising, as is anti-refugee violence. The result: so-called ‘voluntary’ repatriations. Recently the prime minister of Bangladesh said that the country could no longer deal with the Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution from neighbouring Myanmar, to the world’s biggest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

All in all, refugees have never been made to feel more unwelcome across the globe. Whether it is due to the cost-of-living crisis, the rise of populism or a myriad of other factors, societies are becoming more and more hostile to those who need help.

Times are tough, but for refugees – times are tougher. We must do better.

In 2011, millions of Syrians could not have foreseen they would become refugees. Now 5.5 million are refugees and 6.5 million are displaced within Syria. In 2020, none of us could foresee we would all experience a humanitarian crisis in the guise of the global pandemic. But we did.

A disaster can befall us all at any moment and we may need to move to escape it. If you were fleeing for your life, would you want to be told that there is no room for you? Would you want to be told you are not welcome?

Considering the number of countries which now host Ukrainian refugees, and how the increasing number of conflicts and displacement by climate events will create more and more refugee crises, it is time to learn lessons.

The reality is that when there is a refugee crisis the international community’s focus understandably falls on those most in need – the displaced people. Yet impoverished host communities in countries like Lebanon or Bangladesh are often ignored, leading to a build-up of tensions.

Aid responses to support large refugee and displaced populations must benefit host communities, too. Schools that will get more children need more investment to cope with growing class sizes. Business owners who will face more competition should get financial support so they do not lose their livelihoods. Rising prices and rents need to be controlled.

We must be more understanding of the plight of refugees. At the same time, we must understand why many host communities are angry — and are getting angrier. Only by listening to these concerns can we address them.

If we want Syrian refugees to be more welcome in Lebanon, undergoing an economic crisis itself, we need to help Lebanese citizens in need of support, as well as refugees. If we want Bangladesh to continue to host Rohingya refugees, we need to address poverty there. And other countries need to do their bit to accept more refugees and address any anger that may face in their own communities.

This World Refugee Day, we need to not only help those who need a home but those offering it too – a more understanding approach will lead to a more welcoming world.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.