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The Social Impact of Refugees in Developing Countries

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  • Category: Refugee

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In the developed world, the issues that surround the topic of refugees are frequently portrayed in worldwide media outlets. It is fairly common to find the topic mentioned in daily newspapers, magazines, television news stations, and the internet in many countries around the globe. Citizens in major cities of the world frequently come into contact with refugees and asylum-seekers on city streets and unfortunately, the issue of refugees is controversial in many industrialised nations. In industrialised nations, xenophobic attitudes exist that tend to discriminate against refugees and many politicians are taking anti-immigration stances.

There is a common attitude that exists amongst citizens of developed countries that refugees and asylum-seekers are leaving their homes behind in impoverished countries and heading to places such as Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Many believe that if refugees and new immigrants keep flowing across their borders, it will change the demographics of their country and their ways of life will be forever changed. They believe that their Western countries will not be able to sustain the massive influxes of refugees into their population.

While it is common knowledge that many refugees do in fact end up in the Western countries and other industrialised nations, many would be surprised to learn that the bulk of refugee populations around the world are currently residing in developing countries rather than in the already developed countries. When one examines the statistics, Pakistan is the one country that holds the largest number of refugees in the world followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. 6) Together these two countries host a staggering twenty percent of the world’s refugee population. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. )

When one examines the recent data for the top ten host countries for asylum-seekers worldwide, the only developed nations included in the list are the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The seven remaining countries in this list are Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Tanzania, China, and Chad. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. 6) The above information brings us to the question of what are the main impacts that large influxes of refugees have on developing countries? There are numerous works written on the topic of refugees. The topic has received much attention since the end of the Second World War.

As mentioned above, the sociologist E. F. Kunz has developed a refugee theory which has proven to be extremely useful in analysing refugee situations. His work is referred to in numerous publications surrounding refugees. The UNHCR frequently publishes reports on the status and trends of refugees around the world. These reports are extremely vital when looking for accurate statistics on refugees. The numbers of refugees in the world and their origins and destinations are constantly changing so without the UNHCR reports, one would face difficulty finding accurate information.

Most publications that are available about refugees focus on the refugees themselves rather than the effects that they may have on the host country. For example, Chambers (1986) focuses on the host countries rather than the refugees themselves and is extremely useful when trying to analyse the various impacts that refugees may bring to their host country. It is difficult to map the refugee problem as it is constantly changing. In the early 1990s large numbers of refugees that had been in exile in other areas returned to their home countries.

This includes Mozambicans, Namibians, and others who returned home from South Africa as well as Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese being repatriated. Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans were also able to return to their homes in Central America with the conclusion of conflicts in the region. (Loescher & Milner 2005, pg. 15) This paper argues that large refugee populations affect the host country from various angles. The host country is also affected socially by different cultures and values merging together as well as competition between refugees and local citizens.

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the problems associated with large influxes of refugee populations on developing countries. Developing countries are not the ideal locations to host large numbers of refugees, yet the developing countries of the world tend to hold the largest numbers of refugees because these areas are more inclined to political and economic instability. This paper begins by defining refugees and providing some literary analysis on the topic. It explains what a refugee is and will map the refugee problem, going into further detail regarding the origins and destinations of refugees.

It also reviews some of the literature that is currently available regarding the issue of refugees. The paper then discusses the social impacts of large influxes of refugees and look at the clashing of cultures and values in greater detail. Finally, some conclusive remarks are presented. There are several anticipated outcomes of this paper. There are numerous reasons explaining why the majority of refugee populations in the world are residing in developing countries. Often, the reason that developing countries host such large numbers of refugees is simply their proximity to areas of conflict.

Pakistan is in a prime location to take in Afghani refugees. Syria and Jordan take in large numbers of Iraqi refugees and Chad takes in refugees from neighbouring Sudan. Most developing countries of the world lack the expertise and the tools to deal with large influxes of refugees. Therefore, there are severe impacts on the developing countries that are more critical and widespread than if actual developed countries were to host the refugees. Defining Refugees and Overview To better understand the refugee dilemma, we must first know exactly what a refugee is.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the definition of a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country… ” (UNHCR 2009) This definition was established at the United Nations 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which took place in Geneva during the aftermath of the Second World War.

A problem with this definition is that it does not include internally displaced persons who have not crossed an international border and it also does not include people who have fled, internally or externally, to get away from war or civil conflict. This happens to be the case with a significant proportion of the world’s refugee population. E. F. Kunz, a sociologist who was involved with the study of refugee patterns, developed a refugee theory that can be applied to the study of displaced persons.

According to Kunz, there are two different types of refugee movements that exist, anticipatory refugee movements and acute refugee movements. (Kunz 1973, pg. 131) The anticipatory refugee leaves their home country before the deterioration of the military or political system prevents their departure. The refugee arrives in their preferred country of settlement prepared.

The refugee usually has some knowledge of the language, has some access to finances, and is usually informed about the ways in which they can re-enter their trade or profession. (Kunz 1973, pg. 32) Anticipatory refugee movements closely resemble voluntary migrations and to correctly identify these movements, knowledge of the historical background is vital. (Kunz 1973, pg. 132) For example, the movement of wealthy Iraqi refugees into Syria can be classified as anticipatory refugee movement. Acute refugee movements contrast sharply from anticipatory refugee movements. Acute refugee movements are caused by great political changes as well as the movement of armies.

The refugees flee either in great masses or in bursts of individual or group escapes. (Kunz 1973, pg. 32) The primary purpose of these refugees is to reach safety in a neighboring country or other nearby country that will grant them asylum. The main emphasis is on escape and many refugees at the time of passing through the border are unaware that later further migration will become a necessity. (Kunz 1973, pg. 132) In Kunz’s theory, various types of displacement regarding acute refugee situations are also discussed. The first type of displacement mentioned is displacement by flight. Mass flights are reacting to overwhelming and concentrated push situations.

These flights are influenced by a sudden turn of events, shock, and immediate fear. Individual or group escapes are refugee moves in acute situations in which exit is denied or severely restricted and armed or physical barriers have been erected to prevent exit. (Kunz 1973, pg. 141) The second type of displacement is displacement by force. This type of displacement takes place when persons, either under the force of discipline or subdued by organised force, are moved outside the border of their countries of origin.

The force of discipline regards armies advancing or withdrawing beyond their national boundaries and separated army units which may find themselves outside their national boundaries. (Kunz 1973, pg. 141) The displacement of people by organised force can take on many forms including forced population transfers, prisoners of war, and civilian evacuees. (Kunz 1973, pg. 142) The final form of displacement is displacement by absence. This simply refers to persons who left their country peacefully under normal circumstances, but who refused to return after a sudden turn of events.

This is the least common form of displacement. People usually involved in this form of displacement are members of delegations, diplomats, touring groups, and travelers. (Kunz 1973, pg. 142) Another theory that can be applied to the movement of refugees around the world is transnationalism. Transnationalism can be defined as interactions and coalitions across state boundaries that involve such diverse nongovernmental actors as multinational corporations and banks, church groups, and terrorist networks. Viotti & Kauppi, 1987)

Just like organisations, groups, and corporations cross state borders, the same can be said of refugees. A conflict in a region can send large numbers of refugees from one region around the world. Many refugees can have organisations representing them in various locations around the world. Palestinian refugees are one such example of a group that has many organisations around the world bringing attention to their plight. Since this paper regards refugees in developing nations, perhaps the most vital term regarding this issue is protracted refugee situation.

A protracted refugee situation is a situation in which refugees find themselves in a long-lasting and intractable state of limbo. Their lives may not be at risk, but their basic rights and essential economic, social, and psychological needs remain unfulfilled after years in exile. A refugee in this situation is often unable to break free from enforced reliance on external assistance. Today, there are at least 33 so-called “protracted refugee situations” involving groups of 25,000 people or more who have been in exile for over five years. According to UNHCR data, altogether they account for 5. million of the world’s 9. 2 million refugees.

Those figures do not include the world’s oldest and largest protracted refugee situation, Palestinian refugees, who fall under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). (Loescher & Milner 2005, pg. 13) Unfortunately, the world in which we live is a rapidly changing place and the 1990s saw a whole new set of conflicts take place which created massive new flows of refugees. Conflicts and state collapse in the African Great Lakes Region, Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone generated millions of new refugees. Loescher & Milner 2005, pg. 15) It is estimated that the total numbers of refugees around the world is currently at 9. 2 million. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. 5)

The numbers of refugees have increased over the past decade and protracted refugee problems now account for the majority of the global refugee population which demonstrates the importance, scale, and global significance of the issue. At the present time, the country that hosts the highest numbers of refugees in the world is Pakistan with over a million refugees within its borders.

The second country is the Islamic Republic of Iran. As mentioned previously, these two countries combined host twenty percent of the refugee population in the world. These two countries are followed by the United States, Syria, Germany, Jordan, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, China, and Chad. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. 6) Afghanistan currently produces the highest number of refugees and is the leading country of origin for refugees in the world. At the end of 2006, there were 2. 1 million refugees from Afghanistan in 71 countries.

This is twenty-one percent of the world’s refugee population. Many of the refugees flee Afghanistan and cross the border into neighboring Pakistan. Iraqis are the second largest group with 1. 5 million refugees living in mostly neighboring countries. The four remaining source countries are Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi. (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2007, pg. 7) Social Impacts of Large Refugee Populations Refugees drain the host country economically by draining funds that can be used for other purposes such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

The host country is affected politically due to tensions between refugees and the regular inhabitants of the country. Refugees are often a security risk for the host country as well. The other impacts that large influxes of refugees bring on the host country that can not be ignored are the social impacts. There are not only profound social impacts on the host country but on the refugees themselves. In many protracted refugee situations, an increasing number of host states are containing refugees in isolated and insecure refugee camps. These camps are typically located in remote border regions and far from the governing regime.

Many of the host governments now require the vast majority of refugees to live in designated camps and place restrictions on the refugees seeking to leave the camps for employment or education purposes. This trend is known as the “warehousing” of refugees and has significant human rights and economic implications. (UNHCR Report 2006) In remote refugee camps, there are high levels of sexual and physical violence. Many refugees are living in camps where there is idleness and despair and unfortunately this often leads to violence.

Women and children form the majority of the refugee community and are the most vulnerable. Many fall victim to exploitation and abuse. (UNHCR Report 2006) Kakuma and Dadaab are two such refugee camps in Kenya in which physical and sexual violence are extremely common. Both Kakuma and Dadaab camps have serious law and order problems, with incidences of violence occurring regularly in and near to the camps. Refugee women reported seventy incidents of rape in Dadaab in the first eleven months of 2001, according to UNHCR. In Kakuma, nineteen cases were reported in the first six months of 2001.

There are many more refugee camps in Kenya besides Kakuma and Dadaab. Kenya is a country that hosts more than 200,000 refugees. Unfortunately, Kenya denies basic rights to its refugee population such as education and freedom of movement. Children are not allowed any education higher than primary level education and Kenya does not offer work permits to any of its refugee population, despite the fact that many of them are uprooted professionals. (East Africa Standard 2006) The prolonged containment of refugees in camps has led to numerous violations of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Two of the human rights that are being violated according to this convention are freedom of movement and the right to seek wage-earning employment. (UNHCR Report 2006) Many of the long-staying refugees in these camps who are facing restrictions on movement beyond the camps and restrictions on employment are being deprived of the freedom to pursue normal lives and to become productive members of new societies. Host governments usually do not recognise diplomas and professional certificates and healthcare, education, and other services are usually limited.

Because of these restrictions, refugees become dependent on subsistence-level assistance and lead lives of poverty, frustration, and unrealised potential. (UNHCR Report 2006) Large populations of refugees coming into developing countries have profound social impacts outside the refugee camps in many ways as well. There is frequent conflict between refugees and the local population as they compete for the same jobs and scarce resources. There is also sometimes a clashing of culture and values. In many instances, refugees become the “scapegoat” for social problems occurring inside the host country.

One such example where the above is taking place is South Africa. The public culture in South Africa is becoming more and more xenophobic and refugees are blamed for the current crime wave, rising unemployment, and even the spread of diseases. As the unfounded perception that migrants are responsible for a variety of social ills grows, migrants have increasingly become the target of abuse at the hands of South African citizens, as well as members of the police, the army, and the Department of Home Affairs. Refugees and asylum-seekers with distinctive features from far-away countries are especially targeted for abuse, (Human Rights Watch 1998)

Fear of, and hostility towards foreigners is related to the widespread perception within South Africa that there are floods of illegal immigrants coming into South Africa. There is a belief that exists in South Africa that immigrants are poor and unskilled and will therefore compete with South Africans for scarce public resources such as work and health care. High-ranking government officials and politicians have, at times, fuelled xenophobic views that portray refugees as a burden on the state as well. (Palmary 2009)

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