On Friday June 21, an expert discussion was held at the Valdai Club dedicated to World Refugee Day. The humanitarian and social consequences of conflicts around the world were brought up, as well as the role Russia plays in dealing with the problem of refugees and temporarily displaced persons.
Since WWII there have never ever before been such huge numbers of refugees around the globe. According to the UN, there are 71 million displaced people worldwide – 1 percent of the world population. Out of these, 41 million are people who have not left their countries. A large group of refugees has remained in such a situation for more than two decades, while the majority, from five to 15 years. More than 70 percent are women and youngsters with half of the children under the age of 18, which means they have been spending most of their lives in exile. Such alarming data was cited by Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ewen Macleod who spoke at the discussion.
The refugee problem is strongly associated with conflict and poverty: conflicts occur in some of the least wealthy countries, and 50 percent of the world's poorest people will find themselves living in conflict zones in the coming years, Macleod stressed. Therefore, the world community is facing a double challenge: eradicating poverty and finding diplomatic solutions to conflicts. Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts often turn out to be futile, as up to 60 percent of the peace treaties concluded become invalid after a period of time.
Russia is successfully cooperating with the UNHCR through such places as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Defense, said Albert Sitnikov, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights. “Our country provides financial support on a regular and stable basis,” he pointed out. “$2 million has been earmarked and approved by the Russian government as our annual UNHCR contribution.”
According to Sitnikov, part of this sum is a so-called unconditional contribution, which the Agency spends at its own discretion, while Russia distributes the rest – the “tied” part – in coordination with the UNHCR. “This year, from the $2 million, $550,000 were allocated to the Agency, $300,000 to assist Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons, $500,000 to assist internally displaced persons in Syria, and another $300,000 to help Syrian refugees,” he explained.
The most important aspect in the context of the refugee problem is their return back to their homeland. With effective conflict resolutions and a properly built support system for refugees, they can go home and contribute to the development of their native countries. A positive example is Syria, where 1.7 million people have returned to their homes since last summer, including 700,000 from other countries, Sitnikov pointed out.
The refugee problem is global. According to Macleod, countries that are now hosting refugees should receive greater support from the international community. “We need to have more coordination between states,” he stressed. Investing in refugees and enabling them to attain their human potential contributes to the development of local economies and social cohesion, he added.