Officials see them as cruel exploiters of human misery: criminals, traffickers, predators. Indeed, many policymakers seem to suggest that if only we crack down on smugglers, refugee crises would be solved. Popular culture—including through Oscar-nominated documentaries—glorifies Greek and Italian Coast Guards and other anti-smuggler agents as saviors from the machinations of evil smugglers. Syrian migrants have a different view.
The massive influx of Afghan refugees to Iran started in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Until 1992, Iran was exemplary in welcoming refugees. It granted 3-4 million Afghans work permits, free education and subsidized healthcare. Afghans could stay in Iran indefinitely. In 1992 Iran stopped granting permanent residence rights to Afghans, even though in the subsequent years, civil war and the reign of the Taliban have caused an increase in involuntary migration.
Since 2004 Iran has undertaken different measures to curb and decrease the number of refugees.
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, its neighbor Lebanon quickly became the country that hosts the highest number of refugee per capita; today one in four is a refugee. Initially, Lebanon had an open-border with Syria. Between 2013 and 2014, UNHCR registered on average over 48,000 refugees per month. Despite the massive influx, Lebanon did not create refugee camps for Syrians.
On 5 August 2016, the UN News Centre published a picture captioned UN team in Jordan uses cranes to hoist aid to Syrian refugees at sealed border. The picture is taken from Jordanian territory. The low mud wall behind the trucks marks the Syrian border. At the time, Amnesty International reported that more than 75,000 Syrian refugees were living in the desert on the Syrian side. The text accompanying the picture reports that “life-saving food and other supplies from the United Nations” are being “hoisted by crane and monitored by drones across the closed frontier” in what is called “a unique operation.” The World Food Programme delivered food packages, the International Organization for Migration contributed bread, and the UN’s children fund UNICEF hygiene kits. This picture, as well as the perky accompanying press release, captures the outcome of international, and in particular of European policies vis-à-vis the Syrian refugee issue. In 2011, Syria had 23 million inhabitants. At present, some 11 million of them have been uprooted; 6.5 million of them are internally displaced (IDP’s, including the 75,000 people at the Jordanian border), and 4.9 million have sought refuge outside Syria.
Notwithstanding the al-Assad regime’s recent recapture of Aleppo, the crisis in Syria is unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future, and Europe is beginning to collapse under the strain of its inability to devise a tenable solution to the influx of refugees and asylum seekers. The perceived refugee crisis in the Western world is dominating the global conversation, and relatively little attention is being paid to the 40.8 million internally displaced. Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, by virtue of remaining in their country of origin, are largely considered to be just one component of any given state’s burden of impoverished, needy, or disenfranchised people. They are thus often excluded from international debate on the management of refugees and the appropriate responses to crises of displacement that reverberate on a transnational scale.