This World Refugee Day, 20 June 2015, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls on governments and people around the world to respect the rights and dignity of refugees, migrants and displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes.
This year, a staggering 59.5 million people have been displaced. The world has not seen this number of refugees since the Second World War (IOM figures).
The unprecedented numbers of refugees have for the most part not been welcomed by states that have legal obligations and the capacity to offer them shelter and protection.
Considering the limited assistance from states, MSF has been increasing its attention to the health and welfare of migrants facing unimaginable hardships.
Here in South Africa, MSF has been working in three Durban displacements camps providing medical and psychosocial support to foreign nationals displaced by xenophobic violence. Worryingly, 200 refugees remain in the last remaining camp, which authorities have confirmed they will close on 30 June.
Globally, MSF continues to address refugees’ needs in Syria, Lebanon, South Sudan, Congo, Myanmar, Chad, Tanzania, and Central African Republic.
In particular, MSF is involved in search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, where desperate people seeking a safer life are paying smugglers to ferry them in unsafe, overcrowded fishing boats.
Since the beginning of the year more than 100,000 asylum seekers have tried to reach European shores from places like Eritrea, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. In the first five months of 2015 alone, more than 1,800 people died in these boats.
MSF and MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) have been responding to people in distress by offering assistance aboard the MY Phoenix ship and the Bourbon Argos, while MSF has also been independently operating a third ship called the Dignity 1. Since may MSF teams have assisted with more than 2,290 rescues.
In addition to the numbers and facts, the real human cost can be seen through the words of Muhammed, 26, from Afghanistan, who remains stranded on the Greek Dodecanese island of Kos, along with 14,000 other asylum seekers. The case of Muhammed is typical in terms of experiences and motivation to reach Europe.
MUHAMMED - “I was thinking about my family, not myself”
On the rooftop of the Captain Elias camp Muhammed, 26 years old, who left Afghanistan a bit over a month ago, recounts his experience of being an asylum seeker. Having travelled to Kos through Iran and Turkey, he is preparing a meal for himself and his three travel companions, among the shattered glass and rubble, on a small open fire.
“Back in Afghanistan I was running a pharmacy and doing some teaching in a local school. I also wanted to teach women in the village how to be healthy and how to care for their children. One day, some of the men in the village came to me, accusing me of teaching Christian ideas to the children. They said, you’re not a true Muslim, very soon you will be beheaded."
"Then, at the same time, I discovered that everything in my pharmacy had been smashed to pieces and that my father had disappeared without any explanation. It’s now about three months since we last heard from him, and I don’t know if he is dead or alive. For this reason I decided to escape from Afghanistan, while hiding my family in another part of the country. I have come here in the hope that the governments in Europe will let us live as humans and not as animals.”
“I travelled by foot, bus and boat. The boat journey here from Turkey was very dangerous. You pay a smuggler to get onboard a rubber boat. When you pay him, he says there will only be 25 people onboard. And in the night time when you are getting in, you see that there’s already fifty people sitting in the boat and you can’t say no."
"They carry guns and they say they will kill you if you don’t get in. When I got in the boat I was thinking about my family, not myself. In this situation you just have to be brave. Some people in the boat were crying. It was too small for all of us, only about eight metres long. I feel lucky that I made it here safely.”
“I already spent 4,000 dollars to smugglers to bring me here. It was money that I had saved over six years from running the pharmacy and I also borrowed some money. I have given about 1000 dollars to my family to survive in Afghanistan. After this, I will go to Athens and then God will decide where next. It’s better to go out of Greece because it’s the poorest country in Europe so we need to go further. But you have to pay lots of money for that, and I don’t have any left, so I will have to try and do it on my own.”