02 Oct 2019



In a candid interview, Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies talks about worsening situation of refugees and economic migrants and puts across a strong case for a more wholesome and compassionate approach to the crisis

Why is the refugee situation in the world worsening?

It’s a good question, but I think it could be rephrased to: why is the situation for refugees and migrants worsening?

There are many factors at play. First, the factors that force people to leave their homes – as refugees or as migrants – seem to be worsening. The inability of political leaders to peacefully resolve conflicts means that millions of people from places like Syria, for example, have had to leave their homes.

We are also already seeing people being forced to leave their homes because of the aggravating, compounding effects of climate change. And worsening economic inequality means that people continue to leave their homes and risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity.

So that’s why there are so many people on the move. But this is not the crisis. Migration isn’t something to be “dealt with”. It’s part of who we are as a humanity. the crisis comes from the fact that people on the move are not being supported and aided as human beings should be. Instead, they are being treated as a problem – as something to be prevented. This means that governments are increasingly adopting laws and policies that seemed intent on punishing people on the move. This is the crisis.

Are our governments getting more unsympathetic towards their plight? Why?

I think so. Last year we issued a report on what we called a “New Walled Order” (see: https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/document/new-walled-order-barriers-basic-services-turn-migration-humanitarian-crisis-2/). In it, we documented how governments are increasingly focusing on deterring migration, extending even so far as restricting access to essential and lifesaving services. There is a worrying tendency that we are seeing of governments, either unintentionally or otherwise, adopting policies that increase the suffering of people on the move – almost as a means of discouraging other people to migrate. This is unacceptable.

Governments have the right to set migration policies. However, contrary to what many people think, all migrants, even those with no claim to asylum, have rights under international law. These rights include access to health, safety and protection.

Are the western democracies doing enough to address the issue?

This is not just an issue for western democracies. This is a challenge for all governments – rich, poor, south or north. However, I think it is certainly fair to point out that there are concerns with the way richer countries are responding to the challenges posed by migration, and to the needs of migrants. In Europe for example, we clearly see a move towards penalizing or punishing migrants, often in a way that risks lives. We are also seeing a growing tendency towards criminalizing aid organizations that are trying to help migrants, including groups involved in search and rescue. This is completely unacceptable. Saving lives is not a political act – it should not be politicized.

What role does media play in how refugees are viewed and treated in their host nations?

The media has an important role to play. The way we talk about migrants and refugees is so important, and we are seeing language about migration “weaponized” in many countries. Media can also help break down the barriers – the unnatural barriers – that often exist between migrants and host communities. They can help emphasize the similarities that exist between these communities, and show that migrants are people with the same hopes, dreams and fears as everyone else.

Ishara Callan, editor, WHFTalks

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