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The biggest refugee crisis in history has just started

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Bhimashankar Sanga
Bhimashankar Sanga
Elearning Evangelist, Occasional Writer & Full-Time Coach, Obsessive-Compulsive Thinker, Unapologetically Idealistic, Infoholic, Sybaritic.

The Ukrainian conflict is turning out to be the worst artificially manufactured disaster since World War II, characterized by the dizzying speed of a mind-numbing exodus plaguing the Baltic region. This multifaceted Ukrainian displacement crisis, provoked by the multilayered conflict, has triggered a catastrophic humanitarian refugee crisis.

With multi-front fighting across Ukraine, millions (2% of the Ukrainian population) have fled their country. These numbers could swell gradually depending on how long the war continues. As they continue skedaddling westwards into EU countries, this war could create “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.” The EU is ready to carry the brunt of the refugee wave and has relaxed rules to grant Ukrainians the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years, under the principles of non-refoulment. The international community is focused on managing the migration flux to Europe rather than addressing the root causes of the refugees’ exile.

The conflict stemmed from a cascade of flashpoints spanning the gamut from Russian invasion, episodic anti-regime skirmishes, regional proxy battles, and low-level insurgencies to a profusion of separatist hostilities perpetrated by avowedly pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It already has one of the largest internally displaced persons (IDP) populations (1.5 million) globally due to the 2014 Russian occupation of Crimea. Compounding Ukrainian misery is its worst economic downturn, depreciating Ukrainian currency – Hryvnia, precipitating high inflation, shortages of necessities, mounting poverty rates, etc., have exacerbated Ukrainians’ sense of desperation, leaving them in decrepit conditions.

This war has shown no signs of abating and has forced Ukrainians to face a lose-lose situation. Citizens are either being forced to choose between extreme poverty, exploitation, internal displacement, ever-growing chaos and insecurity, and possible persecution in their host country, or abandon their assets, property, and capital to seek asylum in neighboring countries. Refugees are fighting a losing battle, caught in a pincer between homegrown turmoil and hostile migratory conditions. Their journey from being “victims of war” to coming out as “survivors” includes suffering a loss of dignity and braving extreme challenges that seemingly have no end.

Millions are forced to flee their homes, apart from being subjected to despicable acts of siege, falling shells, crashing missiles, and blitzkrieg. They are fleeing in precarious freezing weather while carrying children and dragging wheeled suitcases to neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. Those fleeing their country to undertake the perilous journey to European countries have to face a few other perils, namely: the profound implications of resettlement, enduring the gravest burden of being outsiders, the plight of livelihood, overwhelming economic strife, indefinite psychological scarring, access to healthcare, inadequate food, unnerving new environments, absence of legal protection against sexual abuse and bonded labor, harassment and humiliation, xenophobia and callous discriminatory attitude towards refugees, which are often unheard and go unreported.

The testimonies of those who fled their homes to find a safer refuge raise questions about the very humanity of this world. Refugees are also at significant risk of becoming victims of transgressive behavior, violence, plunder, savagery, and extortion. Threats of sexual assault issued with seeming impunity by smugglers, security guards, police officers, and fellow refugees underscore the need to develop more effective protective mechanisms that ensure accountability. With the ever-increasing numbers of refugees, have we become inured to violations of the humanitarian norms posed by the devastating facts of displacement in Ukraine today?

Even if the war ends, insurgents will exploit security vacuums in their efforts to resurge. The stalemate would be temporary, inherently unstable, with many potential flashpoints and episodic anti-regime violence on the horizon. Ukrainian refugees are unlikely to return home anytime soon, given the hostile environment and large-scale destruction in Ukraine. Against this politically unstable, violence-prone, and impoverished Ukraine scenario, this protracted refugee crisis could spark a cascade of significant socioeconomic predicaments in nearby host countries, with ripple effects into Europe. This refugee crisis will tear social fabric, break economies, and mend the region’s contours for years to come.

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Bhimashankar Sanga
Bhimashankar Sanga
Elearning Evangelist, Occasional Writer & Full-Time Coach, Obsessive-Compulsive Thinker, Unapologetically Idealistic, Infoholic, Sybaritic.
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