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  • Worst refugee crisis since World War II.
  • One million refugees desperately in need of resettlement.
  • Four million Syrian refugees struggling to survive in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • More than 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, and only a small fraction offered resettlement since 2013.
  • 3,500 people drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2014 — 1,865 so far in 2015.
  • 300 people died in the Andaman Sea in the first three months of 2015 due to starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.

World leaders are condemning millions of refugees to an unbearable existence and thousands to death by failing to provide essential humanitarian protection, said Amnesty International as it published a new briefing in Beirut today, ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.

The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conspiracy of Neglect explores the startling suffering of millions of refugees, from Lebanon to Kenya, the Andaman Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and calls for a radical change in the way the world deals with refugees.

“We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis of our era, with millions of women, men and children struggling to survive amidst brutal wars, networks of people traffickers and governments who pursue selfish political interests instead of showing basic human compassion,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“The refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure. We need a radical overhaul of policy and practice to create a coherent and comprehensive global strategy.”

Amnesty International is setting out a proposal to reinvigorate the system for refugee protection and urging states to make firm commitments to live up to their individual legal obligations and renew their commitment to international responsibility-sharing. Amongst the actions Amnesty International is urging governments to take are:

  • A commitment to collectively resettle the one million refugees who currently need resettlement over the next four years.
  • To establish a global refugee fund that will fulfill all UN humanitarian appeals for refugee crises and provide financial support to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.
  • The global ratification of the UN Refugee Convention.
  • To develop fair domestic systems to assess refugee claims and guarantee that refugees have access to basic services such as education and healthcare.

“The world can no longer sit and watch while countries like Lebanon and Turkey take on such huge burdens. No country should be left to deal with a massive humanitarian emergency with so little help from others, just because it happens to share a border with a country in conflict,” said Shetty.

“Governments across the world have the duty to ensure people do not die while trying to reach safety. It is essential that they offer a safe haven for desperate refugees, establish a global refugee fund and take effective action to prosecute trafficking gangs. Now is the time to step up protection for refugees, anything less will make world leaders accomplices in this preventable tragedy.”

Syria: World’s largest refugee crisis

More than four million refugees have fled Syria, 95 percent of them are in just five main host countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

These countries are now struggling to cope. The international community has failed to provide them, or the humanitarian agencies supporting refugees, with sufficient resources. Despite calls from the UNHCR and the UN Refugee Agency, far too few resettlement places have been offered to Syrian refugees. The situation is so desperate that some of Syria’s neighbors have resorted to deeply troubling measures, including denying desperate people entry to their territory and pushing people back into the conflict.

Since the beginning of 2015, Lebanon has severely restricted entry to people fleeing Syria. The Lebanese authorities issued new guidelines whereby Syrian nationals are required to fulfill specific criteria in order to enter. Since these criteria were imposed, there has been a significant drop in registration of Syrian refugees – in the first three months of 2015 UNHCR registered 80 percent fewer Syrian refugees than in the same period in 2014.

Mediterranean: The most dangerous sea route

The Mediterranean is the most dangerous sea route for refugees and migrants. In 2014, 219,000 people made the crossing under extremely dangerous conditions and 3,500 died attempting it.

In 2014, the Italian authorities rescued more than 166,000 people. However in October 2014, Italy, under pressure from other EU member states, cancelled the rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which was replaced by the much more limited Operation Triton (by the EU border agency, Frontex).

Operation Triton had fewer vessels and its area of operation was far away from where the majority of SOS distress calls are made. This contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of lives lost in the Mediterranean. As of May 31, 2015, 1,865 people had died attempting the Mediterranean crossing, compared to 425 during the same period in 2014 (according to the IOM).

Following several horrific cases of loss of life in the Mediterranean, at the end of April, European leaders finally increased resources for search and rescue. Triton’s resources and area of operation were increased to match Mare Nostrum’s. In addition European states such as Germany, Ireland and the UK have deployed ships and aircrafts, additional to Operation Triton resources to further boost capacity for assisting people at sea. These measures, which had long been advocated for by Amnesty International, are a welcome step towards increasing safety at sea for refugees and migrants.

The European Commission also proposed that EU states offer 20,000 additional resettlement places to refugees from outside the EU. While this proposal is a step forward, 20,000 is too small a number to adequately contribute to international responsibility-sharing.

For example, Syrian refugees faced with reduced humanitarian assistance in the main host countries and with no prospect of returning home in the near future, are likely to continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Without sufficient safe and legal alternative routes for refugees – but also for migrants – people will continue to risk their lives.

Africa: Forgotten crises

There are more than 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa. Outbreaks of fighting in countries including South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), have led to an increasing number of people on the move – fleeing conflict and persecution. Of the top 10 countries globally from which people are fleeing as refugees, five are in sub-Saharan Africa. Four of the top ten refugee-hosting countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The conflicts and crises in the region have led to an influx of refugees to neighboring countries, many of which already host long-standing refugee populations from countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, among others.

In some of these situations, as in the case of South Sudan and Sudan, refugees are hosted by countries that are themselves beset by conflict.

The refugee crises in Africa receive little or no attention in regional or global political forums. In 2013 fewer than 15,000 refugees from African countries were resettled and UN humanitarian appeals have been severely underfunded. For example, as a result of the conflict which broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, more than 550,000 people became refugees, the majority of whom are now in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Only 11% of the UN’s South Sudan regional refugee response plan was funded as of June 3, 2015.

South East Asia: Turning away the desperate

In the first quarter of 2015, UNHCR reported that some 25,000 people attempted to cross the Bay of Bengal. This is approximately double the figure for the same period in 2014. This Bay of Bengal sea route is predominantly used by Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi nationals.

On May 11, the International Organization for Migration estimated that there were 8,000 people stranded on boats close to Thailand. Many of those aboard were believed to be Rohingya fleeing state-sponsored persecution in Myanmar.

During May, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand turned back boats carrying hundreds of refugees and migrants desperate for help, despite the dangers they faced. UNHCR estimates that 300 people died at sea in the first three months of 2015 due to “starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.”

On May 20 Indonesia and Malaysia changed course, announcing that they would provide “temporary shelter” for up to 7,000 people still at sea. However, this temporary protection would only last for up to a year, and on condition that the international community would help with repatriation or resettlement of the people. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have not ratified the UN Refugee Convention.

Elsewhere, a terrible precedent has been set in the region by the Australian government whose hard-line approach to asylum-seekers attempting to arrive by boat has, under the guise of saving lives, violated its responsibilities under refugee and human rights law.

“From the Andaman to the Mediterranean people are losing their lives as they desperately seek safe haven. The current refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognizes that it is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation. Later this week UNHCR will release their annual statistics on refugees and we will likely find that the crisis is getting worse. It is time for action,” said Shetty.