USCRI President and CEO Eskinder Negash was a featured speaker at the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s (ECDC) annual conference, “Beyond Borders: Building Resilient Communities for Refugees,” held on May 1, 2019 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Eskinder led off the panel discussion by describing the current global landscape of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) as experiencing a paradigm shift from a humanitarian imperative to a national security threat. This shift occurred, in great part, for several reasons: 1) the sheer number of global refugees and IDPs; 2) the move from long term warehousing of refugees and IDPs in camps to migration; and 3) the revolution in communications and information technology.
The rise in the global refugee population—the largest since World War II—is a key factor in the shift from the humanitarian imperative to a national security issue, said Eskinder. Ten years ago there were 38 million refugees and IDPs globally. Today there are 70 million refugees and IDPs. Moreover, 86% of all refugees and IDPs come from the poorest countries in the world.
According to Eskinder, the new narrative that describes the global refugee crisis emerged when displaced people were no longer content to be warehoused in camps but began to migrate to Western countries. Increased use of communications and information technology has resulted in increased mobility among refugee and IDP populations. The apps used to share information in real time (e.g. border crossings, social networks) have had a significant impact on migration.
This migration has resulted in a dramatic shift in how the West perceives the refugee—no longer through the lens of humanitarianism but through the lens of national security.
Eskinder concluded his discussion by raising the issue of hate speech. “Language matters,” he said, and the lessons from Germany and Rwanda are clear. The challenge of today’s reality of refugee demonization and Islamaphobia is real. Eskinder expressed his optimism even within the context of this new paradigm, saying “We will always welcome refugees at the end of day, because it is who we are.”