With global conflicts spurring refugee crises around the globe, a widening shortfall in funds needs to be remedied immediately, said Bono and humanitarian experts on Capitol Hill this week.
“Aid can no longer be seen as charity, a nice thing to do when we can afford it,” Bono, lead singer for the band U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign, told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee at a Tuesday hearing on global violent extremism and the role of international aid in fighting it.
“Aid in 2016 is not charity. It is national security,” he added.
Bono was joined by representatives of the State Department and the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR in testifying about the importance of international aid in not only tending to humanitarian emergencies, but in preventing extremist violence from festering and creating these emergencies in the first place.
The causes of this violence are myriad and complex, the experts admitted, but the biggest threat is “human need,” explained Gen. James Jones, USMC (Ret.), former National Security Advisor. This is “the unsatisfied demands for life basis including food, energy, water, dignity, and a better future for masses living on the edge.”
Global crises abound. The years-old Syrian conflict has brought the largest refugee situation in the world and 90 percent of those fleeing the war have remained in Syria mostly as Internally Displaced Persons. In Central America, “we see a looming refugee crisis on the horizon,” said Kelly Clements, deputy high commissioner for the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR.
Of 60 million people worldwide who have been forced from their homes, 20 million crossed borders and officially became refugees and 40 million stayed in their home countries, mostly Internally Displaced Persons, Clements testified. If all the “uprooted” people in the world formed one country, it would be the 24th largest in the world; over 42,000 fled their homes daily in the last year.
And well over half — 63 percent globally, and 90 percent in Syria — of refugees are not in refugee camps, and thus not receiving the protections the UN might be able to afford them. The official UN humanitarian aid is woefully underfunded, she added.
“The human and financial resources of UNHCR and our partners are stretched like never before in order to adequately respond to new crises while continuing to adequately attend to those displaced for many years,” she stated. “New conflicts emerge and the existing ones drag on with no end in sight.”
Only nine percent of the funding requirement for UN humanitarian response plans for 2016 has been met so far, creating an $18.6 billion shortfall, Bono noted.
“Our programs in Africa…are at a breaking point,” Clements said, noting that just 35 percent of needs there were met last year.
In the Sahel, the region on the Southern border of Africa’s Sahara Desert, there is the “unholy trinity” of “extreme ideology, extreme poverty, and extreme climate, I guess you’d call it,” Bono said. These conditions make the entire region ripe for internal strife, the problem “even bigger than you think,” he told the committee.
In Egypt, a “vast” and “very sophisticated country,” Bono said, “you could feel trouble brewing” he said of his recent visit to the country, noting crackdowns on human rights activists, Christian NGOs, and disappearances of activists. If a conflict similar to Syria’s happened in a country like Egypt, the ripple effect — a refugee crisis and the conflict spreading to other parts of the region — could be devastating.
Aid is vital to prevent conflicts from arising, the panel argued, because like the complex problems, the aid itself covers many different areas — anti-extremism programs, job training for youth, education, aid to farmers, and many other areas of development. Private-sector investment in developing countries can create jobs and provide wealth to fight economic inequality which can be another cause of social unrest.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Clements how much of UNHCR’s refugee assistance came from the U.S. government. It was about 35 percent of the 2015 budget, she answered.
U.S. international disaster assistance would be cut by 30 percent, Graham warned, and asked Clements how such a cut would affect UNHCR. It would be “nearly impossible for us to meet immediate needs,” she answered.
Yet along with funding shortfalls for international aid, there is also the refugee problem. The overall number of refugees able to return to their homes fell to its lowest level in decades, underscoring the long-term nature of these conflicts, Clements added, and placing families and persons in indefinite situations of economic and social difficulty.
And refugee crises, once they happen, don’t go away overnight, Bono insisted, noting that a typical refugee crisis lasts 25 years. The world is already full of refugees, as the number of refugees is at its highest total since World War II.
Border closures and “policies that prevent or discourage asylum seekers” have manifested an “unprecedented attack on the ability” of refugees to obtain the legal protections they need, Clements insisted. For example, in her recent trip to Serbia when the borders closed there, thousands of refugees were “trapped in countries, unsure of their futures.”
It is critical to remember that “refugees are the victims, and not the perpetrators of violence and extremism,” she insisted.
Sen. Graham asked Gen. Jones about the border policies of countries surrounding Syria. Turkey stopped accepting refugees, and Jordan and Lebanon cut down their acceptance quota. “The people in Syria are trapped. There is no place to go,” Sen. Graham stated.
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