The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out refugee rights, including the right to freedom of movement. Yet 68 years later, 15.9 million people are trapped in prolonged exile, living as refugees for anywhere from 5 to 47 years and counting. The unprecedented duration of protracted refugee situations (PRS) and the increasing scale of forced migration demand a comprehensive response beyond humanitarian assistance.
Of the record 70.8 million people displaced by persecution and violence in 2018, more than 25.9 million were refugees, of which 15.9 million were in 49 protracted refugee situations. These figures demonstrate the severity of the crisis within a catastrophe. Failure to address the root causes and mitigate the risks will lead to irregular secondary movement of refugees from poor to rich countries, waste of human potential, and possible radicalization of jobless youth who are stuck in limbo without a future.
After living for more than a decade in limbo in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, I was one of the lucky few who were given the opportunity to move to America through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. From my viewpoint, refugees are resilient people who need more than just handouts; they want education and job opportunities so that they can become economically self-sufficient. I relate to the issue of protracted refugees as an insider, who was a victim and is a survivor.
Decades of Wasted Human Potential
Protracted refugee situations occur when at least 25,000 refugees from the same nationality have lived in a host country for at least five consecutive years. Despite their implications for security, human rights, resources, governance, peace, and the environment; these extended refugee situations have often been overlooked in the global agenda as deviations from development gains. However, the increasing number and duration makes reducing these long-term refugee situations an imperative. Of the 49 protracted situations in 2018, more than half have lasted between 5 and 19 years and 20 have lasted for 20 to 47 years. The estimated average duration of protracted refugee situations ranges between 18 and 26 years, an alarming number that exceeds the lifespan of a generation.