Aid fatigue growing as refugee, displacement crisis reaches new heights

South Sudanese who fled from Sudan sit outside a nutrition clinic at a transit center in Renk, South Sudan, on May 16, 2023.[File,VOA]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that aid fatigue is growing at a time when a record number of people are fleeing conflict, persecution, human rights violations, climate change, and grinding poverty.

"It is mainly conflict that has driven forced displacement to unprecedented numbers — 110 million refugees and displaced people, the highest in decades," said Filippo Grandi, UNHCR chief, as he opened the organization's annual conference.

The yearly event got off to a solemn start with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and the conflict in Israel — two incidents that struck both countries on Saturday with devastating repercussions for millions.

Grandi expressed his shock at "the appalling attacks carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians," warning that this would cause more suffering for both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, "bringing grave instability to a region already plagued by tensions."
Grandi called the escalating violence another "very dangerous piece in a growing mosaic of crises which, if not addressed courageously, spells doom for world peace."

As conflicts grow, he said, so does disrespect for international humanitarian law with serious consequences for millions of people caught in the middle and forced to flee.

During a visit to Egypt, South Sudan, and Chad earlier this year, Grandi said he met some refugees fleeing the devastating conflict in Sudan and who spoke of the destruction, death, torture, and rapes they left behind.

"They recounted how they had to run from the brutal violence that erupted without warning on 15 April. Their lives upended as suddenly as were those of the Ukrainians the year before, and of many Ukrainians now, facing every day the death and destruction resulting from the Russian invasion," he said, adding that all 110 million people around the world who are uprooted by conflict, violence, and persecution share the same experiences.

While it was up to the UNHCR to help protect, assist, and find solutions for these people, he acknowledged that this was becoming harder to do every year.

Grandi said the global situation was dire and worsening. In the past year, he said the UNHCR responded to 44 new emergencies in 31 countries, "capping off an awful record of number of crises in one year."

The latest emergency, he said saw 100,000 refugees fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan, for safety to Armenia a few days ago.

But he notes violence continues in many other places, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where nearly 1.5 million people have been newly displaced this year alone, "78,000 of whom fled within the country in just one day last week."

"Or in central Sahel, where amidst growing political instability, violence perpetrated by armed groups is forcing more people to flee, including to coastal states. Or in Somalia, where the climate emergency coupled with conflict has forced nearly 900,000 from their homes.

"Or in Myanmar, where hundreds of thousands have been and are being displaced by fighting," he said.

Given this backdrop, the high commissioner said he was extremely worried that underfunding was hampering the UNHCR's humanitarian operations. For example, he noted that the $1 billion Regional Refugee Response Plan, for refugees from Sudan, was just one-quarter funded.

Grandi added that this was only one of many humanitarian operations that are short of cash and have been forced to make drastic cuts in food rations, protection needs and other services.

When humanitarian aid is in short supply, he said many people feel compelled to leave their country or countries of refuge and embark on dangerous journeys in search of a better life.

For example, among those reaching Tunisia and Italy today, he said, are Sudanese nationals who recently fled fighting back home and have moved on from countries neighboring Sudan because of insufficient assistance.

Then again, he notes a significant increase in the number of Syrians attempting the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing "at a time when humanitarian aid in Syria and in neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon is experiencing, again, drastic reductions."

The latest data from the International Organization for Migration show nearly 2,000 migrants died between January 1 and June 26 while crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe.