Men work to dismantle the walls of a shelter in a Syrian refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon. Once dismantlement is complete, they will receive plywood and tarp from humanitarian organizations to rebuild the upper portion of the walls and the roof in compliance with Lebanese housing codes. June 21, 2019.

© Bill Frelick/Human Rights Watch
This was the year when refugees all over the world were pressured to go back home. The indelible refugee image for me was of Syrian refugees last summer in the Arsal region of Lebanon taking pickaxes to their own shelters under orders from the Lebanese army to make them more temporary.

Winter has now arrived, and these shivering refugees are living in great misery, but still resisting mounting pressures to go back to a country controlled by an abusive government that is still bombing, imprisoning and torturing civilians. Meanwhile, in Turkey, scores of Syrians are being unlawfully deported home as the international community watches silently.

Most Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar's military campaign of murder and destruction have just passed their second year in the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, yet their host government also insists their stay will be short-lived. Although there is no sign that Myanmar will soon let them return safely, Bangladesh is forcing the Rohingya to live in flimsy bamboo and tarp shelters that provide minimum shelter from the region's monsoon winds and rain. And their children are being denied an education.

Every so often, their families are pressured to "choose" to return to Myanmar, from which they were brutally expelled and which still denies Rohingya access to citizenship rights. Or there is talk of relocating them to a remote, uninhabited, flood-prone silt island.

Likewise, Burundians in Tanzania, Afghans in Pakistan, and Somalis in Kenya are all under pressure to go back to home countries where their lives and freedom are at serious risk.

Shrinking asylum space in countries at the front lines of crisis cannot be separated from eroding support from donor and resettlement countries and the example those countries set by their efforts to block asylum seekers from their own shores. The US government's attempts to foist asylum seekers onto Mexico and Central American countries, like the EU's migration deal with Turkey and Italy's cooperation with Libyan coastguard forces, greenlight further pushbacks by countries of transit and first arrival. The about-face from one-time champions of refugee rights has left refugees in the lurch in 2019, and the system of international responsibility-sharing that has sustained millions of refugees is now at its lowest ebb since the end of the second world war.