Welcome the world’s newest welcome mat

Despite its own poverty, Bangladesh has allowed in more than 500,000 Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar in what is the world’s most urgent refugee crisis. It joins a list of a few other countries with a generosity toward strangers in need.

AP Photo
Rohingya women carry children and wait for food handouts at Thangkhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Oct. 5. More than half a million Rohingya have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in just over a month, the largest refugee crisis to hit Asia in decades.

The world has many “clubs” of nations, grouped by shared interests, but none like an unofficial one often cited by the United Nations for its generosity. It includes only a few countries, such as Uganda, Jordan, and Turkey. They have kept an open door for refugees in recent years, welcoming millions fleeing conflicts in neighboring states.

Now add Bangladesh to this “club.” In recent weeks, the South Asian country, where a third of people live on less than $2 a day, has allowed in more than half a million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar (Burma). The refugees are fleeing a crackdown by the Burmese military and persecution by militant Buddhist nationalists. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 are still crossing the border each day.

The sudden influx is now the world’s fastest developing refugee crisis. Bangladesh is also one more example of a country that finds its own good in helping strangers in desperate need.

Many richer countries, such as the United States, provide money for the world’s refugees. The UN, in fact, has appealed for $434 million in aid to assist the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, where conditions remain dire. One in 5 of the refugee households is headed by a woman, and about 5 percent are headed by children. The situation awaits a diplomatic resolution with Myanmar, which faces international pressure to end abuse of its Muslims, who are a minority.

With so many people displaced around the world – an estimated 65 million, of which 22 million are refugees – the UN says the response to this problem not only requires more generosity from national governments but also more from private groups and individuals.

“The international character of refugee protection has taken on new forms – through networks of cities, civil society, private sector associations, sport entities, and other forms of collaboration stretching across borders,” says Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Most of the world’s conflicts occur within poor countries – on the borders of other poor countries. South Sudan’s conflict, for example, has pushed a million of its people into Uganda. While Europe still sees thousands of migrants trying to reach its shores – down from the numbers two years ago – most displaced people still travel in less wealthy regions. When they are welcomed and well housed, it should be a moment of celebration.

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