Against the Rise of Xenophobia and Nationalism, We Cannot Forget the Plight of Refugees

From Syria to Palestine to Afghanistan, and from Rohingya Muslims to Uyghur Muslims, we must stay informed and aware of how we can stand in solidarity and against the injustices that continue to plague these refugees.

From Syria to Palestine to Afghanistan, and from Rohingya Muslims to Uyghur Muslims, we must stay informed and aware of how we can stand in solidarity and against the injustices that continue to plague these refugees.

In a world where xenophobia, alt-right fundamentalism, extreme nationalism, and systematic racism seem to dominate the discourse of both government and society, it can seem like a bleak world.

From the open disregard for human rights in US foreign policy to the rise in populist governments across Europe to the ominous partnerships of places like Saudi Arabia and China despite ongoing atrocities of war and genocide (Yemen and Uyghur Muslims) – is there any hope?

The result of the rise and fervor of xenophobic and nationalist policies and systems is the huge catastrophe of refugees across the world, the majority of them Muslims. From Syria to Palestine to Afghanistan, from Uyghur Muslims to the Rohingya Muslims, it seems like the majority of victims, often abused by so-called Muslim states or governments, are Muslims themselves.

Our only hope, for now it seems, is to help those most vulnerable and most affected by brutal governments and oppression in the hopes that solidarity and support can strengthen the fight against injustice.

While this is in no way a complete list of atrocities or issues around the world today, here are some of the major groups of refugees we must put our thoughts and actions into helping:

Syria: 6.6 Million Refugees

Ten years of what has been described as both a civil war and a proxy war have left millions of Syrians killed, internally displaced, and fleeing as refugees from their beloved homeland. Constituting the largest forcibly displaced people in the world, the UN estimates there are around 6.6 million Syrian refugees today.

Many have attempted the arduous journey to Europe – and suffer through horrifying boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea or get abused and chased by border police in Eastern Europe as they claim asylum.

Syrian refugees also have fled to neighboring countries such as Jordan or Turkey, where many continue to live in either makeshift refugee camps or on the streets of cities with little to no access to essentials.

Syrian refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos by boat

With huge numbers of Syrian refugees attempting to start a new life in Europe, we must help encourage our communities and politicians to welcome those seeking asylum.

Speak to mosque leaders on what programs or services are in place to specifically help Syrian refugees in your city. Translators and support groups are essential, as many – especially minors – may feel lost in a wider government system that does not speak the same language or have the same religious values that they feel safe with.

On a wider scale, research into humanitarian aid groups and organizations that are working on the ground in places like Turkey, Jordan, or refugee camps in Europe to see how you can help those most vulnerable.

As the largest forcibly displaced people in the world, it remains a duty on our part to do whatever we can to help our Syrian brothers and sisters, who continue to suffer under one of the worst civil wars in modern history.

Palestine: Generational Refugees

Rendered stateless and forced to flee from their homes more than 70 years ago, the Palestinian diaspora is one of the largest within the Muslim community in the world. Israel, continuing on its path of colonialism and apartheid, is still displacing Palestinians to this very day.

According to UNRWA, who defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict”, more than 5 million Palestinians are deemed eligible for assistance as refugees by UNRWA.

More than one-third of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA today reside in refugee camps across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in occupied Palestine. 58 refugee camps are registered with UNRWA, with generations of Palestinians living in them since the first forced migration in the late 1940s with Israel’s brutal campaign of land seizures.

The issue of temporary residence versus the bitter reality of a long-term settlement in these camps is an ongoing issue for so many Palestinian refugees, who continue to live in the shadow of Israel’s human rights abuses.

Grandfather and child holding the key to their old home before displacement in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza

We must, before all else, continue to raise awareness and strongly campaign against Israel’s continued abuses and violations of international law. Deemed illegal by the ICC, Israel continues to build settlements across the occupied territories of Palestine, destroying Palestinian villages and displacing thousands.

There must be coordinated and consistent outrage against this. Write to your politicians, join your local BDS movement, and continue to protest, raise awareness, and inform your family, friends, and peers on the Palestinian issue.

Look into humanitarian aid organizations and NGOs like UNRWA to see how you can help those displaced and harmed by Israel’s continued attacks against Palestinians. As one of the longest-standing cases of forcibly displaced people, our Palestinian brothers and sisters deserve a relentless support system that will continue to denounce Israel.

Afghanistan: 2.7 Million Refugees

Constituting the second largest group of refugees in the world, the UN estimates there are around 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan today – with an average of more than 1,000 Afghans being displaced per day in 2017 alone.

Years of instability, brought on by the American invasion, infiltration of the Taliban, and poor governmental protection have forced millions of Afghans to flee into neighboring Iran and Pakistan as well as Europe, joining the other millions of Syrians on the arduous journey to seek asylum in Europe.

With a huge number of Afghans attempting to seek asylum in Europe, estimates show that they make up the largest group of unaccompanied minors in the EU – with 3 out of every 10 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum being from Afghanistan.

For Afghans living as refugees in neighboring Iran, the situation has proved just as dire – serious abuses have been perpetrated on Afghan refugees by Iranian police forces, most recently when a group of young Afghan refugees were beaten and forced into a river. 23 of the refugees drowned in the river.

Afghan refugees waiting in line for bread in Serbia, while trying to cross the border to seek asylum

We must stay vigilant and aware of the many cases of abuse refugees face even while seeking asylum in Muslim countries like Iran or Pakistan – there is no excuse for human rights violations or abuses.

Stay informed and aware of the plight of Afghan refugees being abused in Muslim-majority countries – and research into what organizations or charities are working on the ground to help those most vulnerable.

For the Afghans who continue to seek asylum in Europe or North America, work with your local community leaders and mosques to ensure there are adequate services for those new to the country. Translators, community support groups in either Dari or Pashto, and a community-wide effort to welcome those seeking asylum remains a duty on our part to help those fleeing from oppression.

Rohingya Muslims: Refugees Fleeing Genocide

Described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in the country of Myanmar, have suffered under a concentrated and systematic genocide by the Myanmar government since 2017.

Spurred by ethnic clashes, the Myanmar army, supported by extremist Buddhist mobs, have committed immeasurable violations of human rights against Rohingya Muslims. Fleeing their homes in the Rakhine state of western Myanmar, the UNCHR has documented hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees since 2017 – with more than 600,000 in one refugee camp located in Bangladesh alone.

Many of the Rohingya Muslims fleeing brutal oppression in Myanmar have temporarily settled in refugee camps across neighboring Bangladesh – the Rohingya refugee camp of Kutupalong along the border in Bangladesh is said by the UN to be the largest refugee settlement in the world.

Rohingya Muslims continue to either walk across the border or attempt to flee Myanmar on boats into the Bay of Bengal – denied entry by neighboring countries such as Malaysia, many of these boats remain stranded in the sea for weeks.

Rohingya refugees waiting for food aid in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh

With hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing genocide, living in desolate conditions in refugee camps across Bangladesh, we must offer support and raise awareness for their plight. Research into what charity organizations are working in Roginhya refugee camps in Bangladesh, and look into what you or your community can do to either raise funds or offer support to these groups.

We must also put pressure on our politicians, from Malaysia to Europe to North America to Africa, to take this crisis seriously – not only to implement pressure on the government of Myanmar, led by Aung San Suu Kyi who continues to deny there is a genocide, but to also encourage our own governments into supporting Rohingya refugees.

The Gambia, a Muslim-majority nation in West Africa, made a groundbreaking move when it brought Myanmar to the ICJ over its abuses of Rohingya Muslims – we must take this as an inspirational first step towards a wider movement in bringing Myanmar to accountability.

Uyghur Muslims: Systematic Campaigns Against Refugees

Uyghur Muslims, a Turkic ethnic group residing in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, have been abused by China’s ongoing and systematic genocide against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims in a horrendous “anti-terror” campaign.

Up to 2 million Uyghur and ethnic minority Muslims are held in concentration camps across Xinjiang in what has been called the largest incarceration of peoples since the Holocaust of WWII. Uyghur Muslims continue to be tortured and killed under a governmental policy of eradicating Uyghur heritage, religion, and culture.

Many Uyghurs have fled to neighboring Central Asian countries as well as Turkey and Europe – the World Uyghur Congress, based in Germany, has documented the continued plight of Uyghur Muslims who have left family and loved ones behind in China without the ability to return back to their homeland.

Once in Turkey or Europe, many Uyghurs continue to suffer under China’s campaign of terror, with threats of detention or death to the family members of those who speak out against China’s genocide.

Leaked images of one of China’s detention camps for Uyghur Muslims

As one of modern history’s most atrocious examples of cultural genocide, we cannot remain idle and inactive to the continued abuses by China. We must raise awareness, look into NGOs and organizations on the ground in places like Turkey who offer support and safety to Uyghur refugees, and pressure our politicians to stand up to China’s impunity in violating human rights.

As our Uyghur brothers and sisters continue to suffer under a campaign of genocide, we must not allow the strength of China’s economic and strategic partnerships to hinder our ability to call out injustices.

A sickening number of Muslim-majority nations have decided to side with the oppressor, and have applauded China’s record of “human rights” despite clear evidence of China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims. We need to call this out, and hold these Muslim-led governments and leaders accountable for the ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims.

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted” [Quran, 4:135].

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