The Ambassadors REVIEW
Changing Patterns of Flight: Refugees in the 21
Samuel M. Witten
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
his summer I visited Somali refugees at Dadaab camp in Kenya. Conditions
were rough, and familiar from the news coverage we have all seen: people
lined up for food rations in the blistering heat; very rudimentary housing,
health clinics and latrines; and an atmosphere pervading the camp that had components of
both restlessness and relief at finding safe haven.
But these classic, even iconic images of refugees, and the relief they receive from
international donors, belie the way refugee issues are changing around the world.
International migration has soared, and not just from poor countries to wealthier ones.
Internet and other advances have made communication and travel easier for all sorts of
people. Without a Cold War balance of power, the nature of conflict has changed and
refugee flows have grown increasingly diverse and complex. As we confront threats of
terrorism around the world, distinguishing those who would harm us from those who need
our protection has become crucial.
As I see it, three major trends are emerging as forces creating new dynamics in the
refugee world in the 21
First, the distinction between those who have fled across an international border
and those who have sought refuge from conflict within their own country has
blurred. In some areas, such as the area where Chad, Sudan, and Central African
Republic meet, some of the displaced people have crossed an international border,
and some have not. But they have similar needs. The global number of people who
have fled abuses and become internally displaced far exceeds the number who have
crossed international borders and become refugees. But unlike the refugee regime,
the international architecture to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) is
fragmented—each state applies its laws without a framework of international law
specific to IDPs, and there is no single humanitarian agency or unified system for
responding to IDP needs.
Second, more refugees find themselves in protracted situations that occasionally
flare into emergency situations, as festering conflicts explode into violence, and
then subside. How do we provide assistance to displaced people in areas that are
still very unsafe—both for the refugees and the humanitarian aid workers trying to
help? We face this challenge in protracted crises in Gaza and the West Bank,
Lebanon, Colombia, Pakistan, the Caucasus, and elsewhere.
Third, as globalization fuels international migration, refugees are increasingly
caught up in the midst of so-called “mixed flows,” along with economic migrants,
smugglers, victims of human trafficking, traffickers, stateless persons, tourists and