This approach by states contributes to further human rights violations, such as migrants’ deaths and increased risks during their journeys, coyotes, smugglers and traffickers, unaccompanied or separated children migrating alone, and disappearances of children once they have reached “safe territories” (perhaps up to 60% of those who do, according to some estimates).

It also fosters a logic of “us vs others”, in which migrants are cast as “others”, “strangers at our doors”, and tools in other political battles. This creates a crisis for refugees, in which they are caught up in a circle of constant human rights violations – sometimes even through the policy of a state.

Such policies include:

1) push-backs (i.e. not allowing refugees to cross borders or even returning them after they have reached the border)

2) transfer agreements (as in the EU-Turkey case)

3) violations of the principle of non-refoulement (the cornerstone of International Refugee Law)

4) severe violation of human rights, such as:

a) detention of migrants (including refugee children, and for long periods)

e) violations of the right to life

5) lack of respect to specific vulnerabilities (such as those of children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and LGBT refugees).

These violations occur when refugees are on the move, once they have reached “safe” territories, and even when they have found shelter. Consider refugee camps, for example, in which access to economic and social rights, and durable solutions, are scarce. Furthermore, the number of resettlement places is diminishing, along with funding that even at its highest levels was not enough to meet the needs of refugees.

Refugees are persons fleeing from a well-founded fear of persecution due to religion, nationality, race, political opinion or belonging to a social group. In some parts of the world, such as Latin America, they are also fleeing from gross and generalized violation of human rights. A person remains as a refugee for 20 years, on average. While refugees are already victims of human rights violations, the current international scenario is re-victimizing them while they seek protection.

However, such ongoing violations do not stop migration. They only make it harder and more hazardous. They endanger the lives of refugees, and jeopardise the right to migrate.

We must face these challenges. Refugees are not solely an issue of 2015 or 2017, but one of the contemporary world and its nation states. Refugees are an issue of human rights and protection, and a defining issue of this century so far.

Image: Author’s own, created using UNHCR Global Trends 2016 data

Refugees are not the problem – they are not the creators of the crisis. Refugees are the victims of the crisis. Protection strategies need to be re-designed, reformulated, and implemented in different ways to confront the current scenario.

The main challenges involve:

– safe access to territories

– creating legal pathways for mobility

– access to safe territories for all (potential) refugees

– creating more resettlement slots

– access to refugee status determination (RSD) procedures

– adequate RSD procedures

– respect of particular vulnerabilities

– local integration

While migration is a constant phenomenon, forced migration cannot be seen as unchangeable or unimportant. “The refugee crisis is humanity’s crisis”, as Zygmunt Bauman stated. It is essential to rethink the logic of migration governance, with the human being as its axis. The protection of other humans must take centre stage. It must guide every strategy, policy and action. When it does, refugees’ rights and human rights will be respected.