Refugees and migrants are making this dangerous journey. And yes, there is a difference.
According to the UNHCR, refugees are people "fleeing armed conflict and persecution." As such, they are protected by international law. The UNHCR estimates that there were some 19 million refugees around the world at the end of 2014. Refugees are often fleeing "situations so perilous and intolerable they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries," according to the UN. Those fleeing persecution from the government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria are considered refugees, for example. Migrants "choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons," according to the UN. Migrants could return home safely, if they chose to, and would receive protection from their government.
All Syrians staying here would go back to Syria if the war ended. Never in our lives have we thought of leaving Syria, but now we must go.
Women and girls fleeing conflict zones face particular challenges even as they reach refugee camps. A simple trip to the toilet or to gather water can leave refugee women and girls vulnerable to rape and abuse, according to the UNHCR. Pregnant women are also risking their lives to make it to Europe. And because of an ongoing funding crisis, some 70,000 Syrian refugee women alone risk unsafe deliveries of their babies because of the lack of healthcare facilities. The UN also estimates some 750,000 Syrian children are not attending school because they are displaced by the conflict.
LGBTQ refugees face dire threats from many different sides.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender refugees are particularly vulnerable to abuse and persecution from their governments and other armed groups. Last week, Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas, who is gay, addressed world leaders at the United Nations Security Council. It was the first time the UN Security Council had ever held a meeting specifically addressing LGBTQ issues. Nahas told the UN that he had faced persecution both from Syria's army and from fighters from the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. ISIS began executing men it suspected of being gay, and Nahas said he was forced to flee. "At the executions, hundreds of townspeople, including children, cheered jubilantly as at a wedding. If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death. This was to be my fate, too," Nahas testified. "I was terrified to go out. Nor was my home safe, as my father, who suspiciously monitored my every move, had learned I was gay."
People from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Eritrea (a small country in the Horn of Africa) make up 60% of those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in the European Union. Ongoing civil war has devastated the people of Syria. More than 200,000 Syrians have died as a result of the violence in their country over the past four years, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The armed conflict between government forces and the rebel group has displaced another 4 million people, and that number continues to grow, according to the UN. The conflict started when President Bashar Al-Assad cracked down on pro-democracy protests in 2011. The BBC has a comprehensive timeline of Syria's conflict. Somalia's decades-long strife began in the 1980s. In 1991, opposition leaders overthrew the socialist regime established by President Siad Barre, and Somalia fell into an anarchy from which it struggled to recover. After the millennium, the armed Muslim group Al-Shabaab began to gain power, joining forces with Al Qaeda. Today, there are almost 1 million registered Somali refugees.
The world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Greece is the major transit country for people arriving from the Middle East and North Africa. The nation has nearly 9,000 miles of shoreline, which is how 230,000 individuals have crossed Greek borders since January 2015, according to the BBC. Many of these people are refugees escaping perilous situations at home. The influx is overwhelming for a country already suffering greatly with domestic problems — Greece is in the midst of a financial crisis and has come close to defaulting on its international debts several times. Struggling to support its own citizens, Greece is now tasked with how to house — or relocate — the thousands of people taking shelter on its soil until they can travel to countries in the northern European Union. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) recommends that Greece relocate at least 70,000 refugees (those in need of international protection) per year. Currently, the country's goal is to relocate 16,000. ERCE calls this "highly insufficient."
If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death. This was to be my fate, too.