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2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees

Refugees, rights groups, aid organisations say empathy towards refugees is fading even as deaths in Mediterranean soar.

Published in: Al Jazeera

Below is an excerpt from an Al Jazeera feature which included quotes from Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch's Refugee Rights Director. The full feature asked refugees, human rights organizations, experts working with refugees, and those who attempt to make dangerous passages a little safer, what the year 2016 meant for refugees around the world and what they should expect from 2017:

There is no sugar-coating how bad 2016 was for refugees ... But the largest and nearly unnoticed mass forced return was by Pakistan, which forced about 400,000 Afghan refugees and another 250,000 unregistered Afghans to return to their still dangerous and unsettled homeland. 

Little wonder hardly anyone paid attention. The EU was busy brokering a deal with Afghanistan to accept back rejected Afghan asylum seekers and to work with the EU to deter others from fleeing westward. It wasn't about to criticise Pakistan or to defend the rights of Afghan refugees. 

The wealthiest countries chose to ignore the deteriorating conditions in 2016 that caused the number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan to grow by more than half a million, the highest number of newly displaced people since 2001, on top of the 1.5 million internally displaced people recorded in Afghanistan at the end of 2015. Most of the returnees from Pakistan joined the ranks of the displaced, increasing everyone’s misery and contributing predictably to more destabilisation in the year ahead. 

Will anyone care? Those with the power to make a difference from the United States to Australia seem more intent on building their own walls than in defending the right of people fleeing for their lives. Perhaps the tipping point will come in 2017 when cumulative knowledge of trapped civilians in places like Aleppo multiplied many times over will transform the privileged from their me-first mentality and finally bring a sense of a common humanity. But as 2016 closes, that feels like a faint hope at a heavy cost.

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