THE BLOG

Terrible Events Of 2016 Show We Are All In This Together

29/12/2016 08:11 | Updated 29 December 2016

By many yardsticks 2016 has been a terrible year. Refugees and migrants have made difficult journeys to escape danger, with 5,000 drowning in the Mediterranean as they made a desperate attempt to reach safety. 60million people have gone hungry as the El Niño weather phenomenon hit almost every continent.

As we count down to the new year and what should be a new start, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East shows no signs of improvement. More than 47 million people are in need of aid - a figure equivalent to three quarters of the population of the UK. Many emergencies have come to a head in the final months of 2016 with the defeat of opposition-held areas in Syria's second city Aleppo, the fight for control of Mosul in Iraq and the increasing risk of catastrophic hunger in Yemen. The conflicts at the roots of all these emergencies are years old but have reached new depths of suffering in recent weeks.

Behind the mind numbing numbers are real people like Nadi who is just one of the 47 million people who need help. She's a widow and along with her children was forced to leave their home in Jalawla town in Iraq because of ISIS. They stayed in various places and Nadi sold desserts to pay for her children's education. Eventually they went back home to find it had been burnt out, with the contents of her shop beneath where they lived, stolen and destroyed. With Oxfam's help, she is putting her house and shop back together, but the impact of the fighting on her and her children will take much longer to repair:

"My children were so scared of the bombing that it made them ill. I would try to encourage them, to comfort them, but they are just children. They didn't want to eat for two days because they were frightened of the big sounds from the bombs. When we were displaced my children would always ask me why all of this misery had happened to us? I was living a nice normal life before all of this. We are still tired mentally; with all that we have gone through we still feel in pain."

Nadi suffered not just because of fighting, but because the international laws that should have kept her safe were totally disregarded. And they're not just disregarded by rebel groups. When governments turn their backs on refugees, rather than giving them sanctuary from danger, as the Refugee Convention prescribes, they are undermining international law. When Russia bombs Aleppo or when Saudi Arabia bombs Sa'dah in Yemen they are not only destroying hospitals, schools and lives, but the bedrock of international law, the rules that put into practice what is our common humanity. Chipping away of respect for international law - to our shame - goes wider than that.

When the UK sells bombs that it knows may be dropped on the children of Yemen, it's also chipping away at the International Humanitarian Law, agreed so as to place limits on the human carnage of war.

The point is not that international law is perfect or complete. It is that in stormy times - and 2016 has certainly been that - we should strengthen it and uphold it, rather than chip away at the edges. But that is exactly what has happened in 2016 when so many governments - not all, to be fair - have tried to do all that they can to limit the number of refugees reaching their shores, rather than welcoming those who do, and sharing responsibility for hosting them with the low and middle-income countries that still now host the vast majority of the world's refugees.

We need change that builds, rather than destroys. That means controlling arms supplies as the Arms Trade Treaty already requires governments to do. It means offering a refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution, as the Refugee Convention has for decades prescribed. We must also develop a Global Compact on Migration, to protect migrants, so often as vulnerable as refugees, and to manage migration for the benefit of all.

If the terrible events of 2016 are not to be repeated, the calls for change to make the world more secure and inclusive must be heard and acted on. Nadi's experience may seem a million miles away from ours but we share the same thread of laws and norms that are supposed to keep us safe. Ultimately we are all in this together.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS