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asiangames13th|World Insights: Middle Eastern refugees yearn for peace, reunion amid prolonged wars

23 06

CAIRO, June 23 (Xinhua) -- It's a scorching afternoon in Cairo's bustling Khan el-Khalili marketasiangames13th. Sara Ahmad, draped in a black abaya and clutching a folio of intricate tattoo designs, weaves through the crowd, peddling Henna tattoos, a hand-drawn form of body art, to passersby.

If lucky, she might attract one or two customers a day, earning 300 Egyptian pounds (about 6 U.S. dollars), which, however, is far from enough to support her and her four children.

For Sara and thousands of Sudanese refugees like her, begging has become a primary means of making ends meet, in addition to engaging in regular business activities.

Life is harsh. Yet compared to her compatriots lost in wars back in Sudan, Sara considers herself fortunate.

In April 2023, armed conflict erupted in Sudan, prompting Sara, her family, and over 2 million Sudanese to flee their homeland for foreign shores to survive.

Sudan's surging refugee numbers epitomize the growing global refugee crisis in recent years.

According to a June report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), global refugee numbers have consistently risen to unprecedented levels, with tens of millions displaced. Middle Eastern countries are the major source of the newly displaced people.

While escalating wars and conflicts plague the region, these struggling refugees, dispersed and destitute, are eagerly awaiting a chance to reunite with loved ones in their homeland.


For 45-year-old Gaza resident Samer Awad, being labeled a "refugee" is a challenging thing to come to terms with.

"A year ago, I was celebrating Eid al-Fitr with my family," Awad told Xinhua. "Overnight, we have become displaced people who (seem to) have no hope of surviving this deadly war."

On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, igniting a fresh round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel responded with a massive military operation in Gaza, resulting in over 37,000 Palestinian deaths and displacing more than 2 million Gazans, including Awad and his family.

Beyond Gaza, regional conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Sudan, and recent flooding in Afghanistan have displaced millions across the Middle East.

In Sudan alone, since violence erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in April 2023, over 7.1 million people had been compelled to leave their homes as of May, with an additional 1.9 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

In recent years, there have been setbacks in global efforts to address the refugee crisis. UNHCR's recent report shows that by the end of 2023, an estimated 117.3 million people worldwide were displaced, which marked an increase of 8 percent or 8.8 million more people compared to the end of 2022, continuing a trend of annual increases over the past 12 years.

Globally, one in 69 people, or 1.5 percent of the world's population, were forcibly displaced, a figure nearly double that of a decade ago when it was one in 125 people.

The UN refugee agency estimates that forced displacement continued to increase in the first four months of 2024 and by the end of April is likely to exceed 120 million.


The continuous increase of refugees is evolving into a global crisis with extensive social, economic, and security ramifications, especially in developing countries.

According to the UNHCR, 75 percent of the global refugees were hosted by low- and middle-income countries.

"Low-income countries continued to host a disproportionately large share of the world's displaced people," the agency said in its June report, stressing that these countries, which make up just 9 percent of the global population and contribute only 0.5 percent to global GDP, nevertheless hosted 17 percent of the world's displaced persons.

Due to their weak economic foundations, insufficient job opportunities, and inadequate infrastructure, these low- and middle-income countries often struggle to provide resources for the refugees that flood in. Many of the refugees are forced to rely on begging and other desperate measures to survive, placing a significant social strain on the host countries.

Take Lebanon, for instance, where an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside among a total population of slightly over 5.3 million, making it one of the countries with the highest proportion of refugees worldwide.

"The massive refugee exodus, the chaos that accompanied it, and the short time during which it occurred imposed difficulties in infrastructure, work sites, housing, transportation, and formal education," said Adnan Bourji, director of the Lebanese National Center for Studies.

Today, Lebanon is facing impending risks of an economic crisis, security vulnerabilities, and a decline in living standards. According to official data, 90 percent of the refugees in the country are living in extreme poverty.

Developed countries have also started feeling the ripple effect. A substantial number of refugees are risking their lives to enter developed regions like Europe and the United States through smuggling routes, further exacerbating the overflow of the crisis.


Analysts argue that to truly address the refugee plight facing the world, the international community must step up efforts to enhance coordination.

On one hand, measures should be taken to support host countries in tackling social and security challenges. On the other hand, the international community must urge relevant countries to cease hostilities and restore tranquility.

The simmering refugee crisis is largely a result of the inaction of the international community and its organizations, said Amjad Farid, executive director of the Khartoum-based Fikra for Studies and Development.

"The international community and its systems must unite to address this disaster and give it the attention it deserves," Farid stressed.

asiangames13th|World Insights: Middle Eastern refugees yearn for peace, reunion amid prolonged wars

At the political level, the international community must play a role in resolving the conflicts littered across the Middle East, according to Jordanian political analyst Raed Omari.

"The longer the conflicts persist in the region, the more complex the refugee issue will become," he said, adding that without resolving regional conflicts, the root causes of the refugee crisis can never be addressed.

However, amid the current global geopolitical situation, it appears that the ongoing trend of frequent conflicts cannot be contained in the short term.

An analysis by the U.S. Foreign Policy magazine in January indicated that not only is there little hope for the current global conflicts to be resolved in the short term, but more crises are likely to erupt worldwide by 2024.

Against such a backdrop of geopolitical conflicts, the elimination or alleviation of the refugee crisis remains a tall order.

While drawing Henna tattoos for customers, Sara keeps track of news broadcasts about the conflict in Sudan through a radio she carries with her at all times.

"I still have family and relatives in Sudan. My roots are in Sudan," she told Xinhua. "Once the situation calms down, I will return to my real home."

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