By the reckoning of the United Nations’ main refugee agency, the UNHCR, 2014 saw the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes across the globe rise to 59.5 million.
That means more human beings are fleeing conflict and persecution now than at any time since World War II – roughly one in every 122 people.
While that number has been steadily growing in recent years, and shows no sign of slowing, 2014 has seen a more troubling new development. For decades, the majority of forcibly displaced people have looked forward to one day returning home. In 2014, however, we saw the first signs that protracted conflicts are closing the door on return as an option, with rates of people going home hitting a historic low.
Yet resettlement – the other outcome that the displaced might hope for – is only a reality for a tiny percentage of the millions in need.
That means that many of the displaced exist in constant uncertainty, risking their lives on frontiers that are more and more aggressively policed. Across the globe, states are responding to the crisis of displacement by building walls and fences – on the borders between Israel and Egypt, the United States and Mexico, Hungary and Serbia, Tunisia and Libya, Kenya and Somalia.
Like the Berlin Wall and even the Great Wall of China before them, these barriers represent failure: nations are confronted with situations that won’t disappear and which their domestic politics can’t or won’t accommodate, so they seek to exclude the problem from view.
“Frontiers of Hope” features five stories of the displaced from Fairfax Media’s correspondents across the globe, each highlighting an aspect of the crisis. Together they are testament to the global nature of this problem and the need for a global solution.
What this means for Australia is that it is not a question of Jakarta or Geneva – of choosing between bilateral and multilateral approaches – but of Jakarta and Geneva and recognising our own place in a global community which, no matter what any map may tell us, has no islands.