Millions of Refugees Are Suffering from the Crisis of Having a Passport from ‘Nowhere’

Published on AlterNet, by Vijay Prashad, Oct 12, 2016.

Those who carry these passports from countries like Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia arrive at international borders only to discover they aren’t considered people.

There are countries in the atlas that barely exist in the world. There is no Palestine. Afghanistan can be found there, but on the ground it is a phantom. Like Syria, another ghost of an earlier time. Or Somalia, a metaphor for the destruction of nations. ‘Libya has become Somalia,’ we say casually, erasing the fact that Somalia is a real place with a population of over ten million people.

But these countries—Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia—are also names of passports that mean little. Those who carry these passports arrive at international borders and find a new queue—not national passport holders or foreign passport holders, but refugees. Their passport can be shredded. It has lost its currency. In 1922, the League of Nations provided a ‘Nansen Passport’ as an emergency document to refugees from Russia. Later this passport was provided for refugees from the Ottoman Empire—particularly Armenians and Assyrians. Today there are Refugee Travel Documents—but these are not so easily obtained. Countries that signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol chafe at their obligations … //

… In a recent statement, UNHCR wrote acidly, ‘Never before has UNHCR had to manage its programmed operations with such a high funding gap between approved budgetary requirements and funds received. The humanitarian system at large is faced with a critical financial dilemma: while the numbers of people forcibly displaced across the world continue to rise, the funds available for humanitarian aid are not keeping up with the rapidly expanding needs.’ These are powerful words from a UN agency. They are running on fumes to manage a crisis that has no easy political ending. Resources wars, addictions to regime change, refusal to allow regionalism to emerge, ecological tragedies from climate change—these are the sources of the refugee crisis. There are no answers to any of these in the current period. We will have a refugee crisis for a very long time … //

… (full text).

(Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013) and The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday).


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