Yesterday, UNHCR representative Angelina Jolie gave a keynote speech imploring the world to stand up and take action to address the current humanitarian and refugee crisis. Speaking at the BBC’s ‘World on the Move day’ Angelina argued that we must tackle the root causes of the crisis and stop the suffering for people fleeing from war.
The facts are stark. The world is facing its biggest refugee emergency since World War Two. Over one million people attempted the perilous Mediterranean sea crossing in 2015 alone. More than 3,000 have drowned, not to mention countless others killed in multiple conflicts blazing around the world.
As Jolie pointed out: “In the past six years, 15 conflicts have erupted or re-ignited. The average time a person will be displaced is now nearly 20 years. The number of refugees returning to their homes is the lowest it has been in three decades. Africa has more people displaced than ever before.”
As our own research has shown, forty per cent of wars restart within ten years of a peace treaty being signed. This is why focusing on sustainable, lasting peace is so important. As Jolie put it: “My argument is that unless we address the root causes of the crisis, we will not see a slowing in the numbers of refugees crossing borders, and in fact, quite the opposite: countries around the world will be asked to do more and more.”
So how do we address these root causes? One way is to work with local peacebuilders on the ground. They are stopping conflicts so people do not have to flee their homes. This local action is supporting young people to move away from extremism in Pakistan and Somalia, is healing deep seated animosity in Sri Lanka and Israel-Palestine, and is addressing the damaging legacy that conflict leaves in the DR Congo.
The work of peace activists like our partners is crucial, but remains a striking absence in many peacebuilding policies and approaches. As Jolie noted: “The spotlight has been firmly on Europe. But the crisis in Europe is only a fraction of the global refugee problem, and therefore the solutions being discussed for Europe are only a fraction of the overall answer. We in the West are neither at the centre of the refugee crisis, nor – for the most part – the ones making the greatest sacrifice. The majority of the world’s refugees live in countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan.”
Whilst news headlines point out the devastating effects of conflict – the people who have managed to flee – they do not point out the tireless and dangerous work that local peacebuilders undertake in conflict zones every day. At Peace Direct, we work with some of them in over ten countries, and we map others on our flagship website Insight on Conflict, amplifying their voices across the globe. These are the people standing on the frontlines of conflict, building the foundations of hope. More must be done to support their efforts. To stop war before it starts.
Jolie ended her speech calling for each individual to play their own part in addressing the crisis: “This is a duty that falls to all of us – to the next UN Secretary General, to all governments, to civil society – to every one of us. Whether we succeed will help define this century.”
Peace is fragile, and can only be sustained when local people are building it. We can all play our own part to support them, to build a world free from violent conflict in which people do not need to flee their homes to survive. It starts with each of us, one person at a time. Will you be the next to stand up?