Amir Awaad was dreaming of gold. The 18-time national wrestling champion trained all his life to represent his native Syria at the Olympics. His dream turned into fantasy when Amir had to fight outside the arena—this time for his life. A year after the war broke out in Syria, Amir, his wife, and three young children fled to Egypt. They settled in Alexandria, where Amir opened the Sports Academy Syria in 2016. Its purpose is to bring together refugee and asylum-seeker youth from 12 different countries to cope pyscho-socially with the traumas they left back home. The method? Intense and proactive training in contact and ball sports.
The World Bank Group-IMF Annual Meetings, which concluded this week, saw over 13,000 participants from 180 countries, including 171 ministers. It’s a good opportunity to take stock of where we are in global development today and renew our commiment. The overall picture is positive – global growth has improved over the past year and encouraging progress has been made in poverty reduction – but the world also faces many complex, interlinked challenges.
I’m at the United Nations General Assembly this week, where all the conversations I’ve had with partners bring home the reality of a world grappling with multiple crises. There is a real shift in the global agenda, one that is now focused on displacement, prevention and stronger collaboration across humanitarian, development, diplomatic, peace and security partners.
Our plane landed on an almost dirt airstrip, precariously carved out from among the bushes in Uganda’s northern District of Adjumani, which has a border with South Sudan to the northwest. The district is home to some 227,000 refugees, who make up close to 60% of the total population. Immediately after disembarking, we drove off on a dirt road, flanked by tall, green corn fields, banana palm and mango trees, which created a sea of vegetation – parted here and there by narrow lanes leading to mud huts. As we approached the district’s center, I tried to spot the usual tell-tale signs of refugee quarters, such as fences or other kind of demarcations.
There were none.
Her tears remain vivid in my mind. She was one of so many young Nigerian kids that we met while on mission in North East Nigeria. They and the rest of their communities were desperate for hope and livelihood. I was part of a World Bank inter-disciplinary crisis response/stabilization and operational support team that recently visited the region, which remains the home base for the Boko Haram insurgency.
Last week, I represented the World Bank Group at the United Nations Security Council on the famine response in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In these four countries, more than 20 million people face famine or the risk of famine over the coming six months, and urgent action is needed to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
The Security Council may appear to be an unusual place to find a development institution such as the World Bank, especially regarding a humanitarian crisis like famine.
I had the opportunity recently to participate in the Third Edition of the World Reconstruction Conference, where I was reminded once again of a sobering reality – that we live in an increasingly interconnected world where multiple crises overlap in complex ways, from the impacts of climate change to a spike in violent conflict, historically high levels of forced displacement, and the worst famine in 70 years.
At the same time, I was encouraged by how the international community is coming together, breaking silos to forge a comprehensive response. While the Conference focused on the role of post-crisis recovery and reconstruction for resilience building and disaster risk reduction, partners recognized the complexity of this effort. The joint communique noted that conflict and fragility require special attention as it can aggravate the impact of natural disasters and make the recovery process more challenging.
Today on World Refugee Day, we hear once again that the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution has increased to 65.6 million by the end of 2016, according to UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report.
These numbers have served to galvanize attention to the severity of this crisis, providing momentum for the global community to take action. At the same time, these numbers have caused anxieties among many hosts, especially in OECD countries. Taking center stage in the political debate, it has raised questions over their ability to support all of those fleeing conflict, at times leading to fear and rising anti-refugee sentiments.
Have we really entered a “new world” where population movements are on a scale never experienced before, calling for extraordinary measures to stop the flow? To answer this question, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers.
If you were forced to run for your life, amidst falling bombs or as a hurricane approaches, what would you grab after your children and loved ones? You would be well advised to make your identity documents one of the first things to pack. Birth certificates, national ID cards, passports, residence permits, even a driver’s license—documents like these will be necessary to prove who you are to the authorities in the country to which you flee, and the authorities in your home country when it is safe to return.
If you have been to the West Bank, you might know that refugees there no longer live in tents. You could even walk through a refugee camp without ever noticing, except for the many posters of those lost in the conflict. In the two refugee camps in Bethlehem, Aida and Dheisheh, there is no physical division left between city and camp, but an invisible divide remains.