Global displacement crisis highlights needs of migrants and refugees caught in foreign conflicts – and diaspora support

Global displacement crisis highlights needs of migrants and refugees caught in foreign conflicts – and diaspora support

19th June 2024

Ahead of this year’s World Refugee Day, we consider the situation of migrants, students, and other foreign or ‘third country’ nationals displaced by crises around the world, and the role of diaspora communities in providing vital protection to these groups, especially in the absence of other sources of support and assistance. 

UNHCR warned last week that forced displacement has surged to new historical levels, with 120m people displaced in May 2024. While political instability and economic crises, natural disasters, and climate-induced emergencies are all causes of forced displacement, by far the biggest driver is armed conflict. From Colombia to DR Congo, Ecuador, Gaza, Haiti, Libya, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, conflict and violence have forcibly displaced tens of millions internally and across borders in search of safety. 

People Forcibly Displaced Worldwide 2104-2023
Source: UNHCR

This stark reality of increasing global displacement also highlights the extent to which some of the poorest countries in the world are already hosting large numbers of displaced people and migrants.  Sudan, Syria, DR Congo, and Yemen are among the top five countries hosting the largest IDP populations, mostly due to conflict or violence. 75 percent of refugees are hosted by low- or middle-income countries such as Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda. A further 28 per cent were hosted by middle-income countries such as Bangladesh, Colombia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Türkiye. 

Conflict and instability rarely respect national borders, and can quickly become regional crises. Countries which were once seen as places of refuge can all too rapidly become unsafe. In Ecuador, which hosts tens of thousands of displaced Colombians and Venezuelans, rising gang violence and rioting across in different parts of the country linked to transnational drug trafficking gangs has caused internal and external displacement, and forced the government to declare a state of emergency in April 2024.     

However, the needs of foreign or ‘third country’ nationals caught in these conflicts are often ignored, and the opportunities for them to flee to safety to neighbouring or other countries are often limited. For example, Sudan in 2023 hosted over3m people displaced from neighbouring countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia, as well as further afield, such as Iraq and Syria. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Sudan in April 2023, many of these foreign nationals are not eligible for, or cannot afford, visas to seek safety in neighbouring states like Egypt, but also cannot return to their countries of origin. They are thus forced to move within the country in search of safety, and often are in dire humanitarian need.  

To take another example, at the start of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022, there were tens of thousands of foreign nationals resident in Ukraine as migrants or students, including many from African and Asian countries. These were excluded from the emergency visa and mobility schemes created for Ukrainians displaced by the conflict, such as in the EU and UK. Many were initially not permitted to cross Ukraine’s borders with EU states like Poland before diplomatic interventions from African origin countries and UN agencies such as IOM.  Many lacked access to information and basic services, and some were even detained in EU immigration facilities. In the absence of formal assistance from their countries of origin, transit, or destination, many were forced to rely on the diaspora for assistance in terms of cash, information, and other forms of practical and emotional support. 

These examples also highlight the support and assistance provided by diaspora communities to their extended families and communities displaced by conflict and violence. From Eritreans in the diaspora organising fundraisers to support Eritreans caught in Sudan, to the Haitian and Venezuelan diaspora providing assistance to their compatriots displaced to other Latin American countries, the diaspora play a critical, yet often unrecognised, role in migrant protection. 

The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day is “solidarity with refugees – for a world where refugees are welcomed”. At Shabaka, we support UNCHR’s call for greater respect the basic laws of war and international law by conflict parties, and for improved cooperation and concerted efforts to address conflict, human rights violations and the climate crisis that are driving record levels of displacement.

We also call for greater recognition of the needs and rights of foreign and third country nationals displaced by conflict and instability, and of the solidarity, support, and protection that diaspora communities around the world provide them in times of crisis. 


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