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Stemming the tide

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Stemming the tide

When hundreds of thousands of people flood across a border in a few days (as happened at the Rwanda/Zaire border in July 1994), it's almost impossible to provide food, water and shelter for them. No matter how hard everyone tries, it takes time to raise money, find supplies and get them to the refugees. By then, many people may have died.

At the other end of the scale, refugees who need to stay for years can put a huge burden on the country of refuge. Pakistan, already a relatively poor country, struggled to cope with over three million refugees from Afghanistan, many of whom had been there 15 years by the time they started to go back home in 1992.

Some refugees cannot or are unwilling to return home, usually because they would face continued persecution. In such circumstances, the UNHCR helps to find them a new home, either in the country that they fled to or in a third country where they can be permanently resettled. However fewer than 20 nations worldwide participate in the UNHCR resettlement programmes and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. New Zealand is one of them.

With these stresses, the world is starting to recognise that, as well as meeting the needs of today's refugees, we must somehow try to reduce the numbers needing to flee in the future. But what is the best way to prevent people from becoming refugees? Six people speak out their thoughts below.

"I think we should make it harder for people to be accepted as refugees. After all, these huge numbers trying to cross borders can’t all be in mortal danger in their own country. Some of them must be just trying to find a better life for themselves. If people know they’ll be sent back if they can’t absolutely prove their danger, maybe fewer will try to come."
"I agree. Western countries can’t be expected to support these floods of refugees. When hundreds or thousands arrive in a few days or weeks, it’s too hard to look after them properly. I think we should refuse to take them like the Australians did with the Tampa boat recently, or turn them back before they reach our borders like when Pakistan finally closed its borders to refugees from Afghanistan. We have to make refugees go back to their own country before they become too much of a strain on us."
"Once people start trying to leave their country, it’s too late. We have to keep all these countries safe in the first place. If we could wipe out civil war, we’d more than halve the refugee problem overnight. I say send in the troops at the first sign of unrest and take over the country."
"How can we stop conflicts before they start? I think we should put more effort into stopping wars once they begin, so refugees can go home sooner. That means negotiators to help the two sides agree on how to work for peace, so everyone can go home safely – like when RENAMO and FRELIMO both agreed to work towards elections in Mozambique."
"It seems to me that we have to start much earlier. Most of the places where refugees come from are poor countries with weak or corrupt governments. If we can send aid to help more countries train strong, efficient leaders, and develop stronger economies, maybe there’ll be fewer wars, and less need for people to become refugees."
"Aid’s all very well, but some countries need to be forced to protect their people. We should refuse to trade with countries, which ignore their people’s human rights. When things get bad enough, they’ll have to stop imprisoning people unfairly, or worse. After all, no country can survive for long if everyone stops buying their goods and providing them with the goods they need."

     What do you think?
  1. Design a chart to help you summarise what each person thinks should happen to stem the tide of refugees. In your chart summarise what each person thinks and the reasons they give for their opinion.

    What they think
    Reasons they think this…

  2. Which person’s opinion do you most agree with? Explain why?
  3. Which person’s opinion do you least agree with? Explain why?