HISTORY has witnessed the movements of people in various forms and fashions.
In the early stages of peregrine existence, it was migratory waves of people over millennia looking for a conducive environment to serve their survival needs.
As settlements became complex with definite territorial claims, people were displaced because of wars and persecution the result of man’s greed and mistrust.
Such displacement has inflicted untold sufferings, uprooted and forced masses to move in search of a safe haven.
In ancient times forced movements of people were due to conquering hordes, such as the Huns, Mongols, Turks, Greeks and Romans.
The Greek, Roman and Ottoman empires are examples of invasions that colonised peoples of other lands.
There was much displacement of people after the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the migration of people, especially the Germanic tribes into the declining Roman Empire.
Displacement was also caused by migratory waves of people as was the case in the migration from the European mainland to the New World; it was caused not only by religious persecution but also the search for a new homeland.
Thus, the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonised different parts of the Americas.
They displaced the indigenous peoples, such as the American Indians in North America to the extent of extinction and the Incas in Central America.
Likewise, the penal colonies in Australia and New Zealand displaced the indigenous Aborigines and the Maoris.
In the modern era, the causes of peoples’ displacement are conflict (wars) and persecution.
These displacements are due to a hegemonic agenda, ethnic cleansing (genocide) and internecine conflicts as a result of religious differences.
Examples of ethno-religious conflicts are the Bosnia-Srebrenica massacre and the Rohingya genocide which have caused exodus of people from their homeland to seek refuge in other countries, thus creating the refugee problem.
The current refugee problem is blatantly evident in Kutupalang, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp housing around 600,000 Rohingya.
The worst part is that the United Nations (UN) is helpless; it is unable to go to the aid of the refugees. Other countries — except for ones like Malaysia — have long forgotten their plight.
Wars in Syria and Yemen as a result of power struggles have also displaced people. Likewise, the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another form of displacement is the result of state-sponsored migration as in Palestine and Xinjiang, China.
Displacement in this context can be either physical or mental or both.
Xinjiang has a Turkic Uighur Muslim majority with a long history of subjugation by the Dzungars in the 17th century and the Qing in the 18th century.
In recent history there was the state-sponsored migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang to displace the socio-religious and cultural fabric of the Muslim Uighurs.
The classic example of state displacement of people is the forced acquiring of Palestinian lands by Britain, the US and Russia to set up a Jewish state.
The Jews evicted the Palestinians from their homeland and built walls to keep them out.
Thus the Palestinians have not only been displaced but also have had their cultural heritage taken away.
The current conflict brought about by India’s unilateral abrogation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir will forcefully displace the Kashmiris mentally and physically.
Age-old animosity and conflict knows no bounds and the perpetrators will stop at nothing to realise their political agenda even though people will suffer.
It parallels Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and inflicting of sufferings on the Palestinians.
It would seem that India is taking a leaf from the book of Israeli’s aggressive algorithm.
All over the world, political agenda overrides humanitarian concerns, such as in Yemen, Syria, India, Afghanistan, Iraq and even in Iran, where wars and persecution created stateless people, evicted from their homeland.
Europe has been the target of Middle-Eastern refugees and countries like Germany, Italy and France have been pressured to accommodate them on humanitarian grounds.
Australia and New Zealand are very strict in accepting refugees from the worn-torn Middle-Eastern countries, with Australia placing these displaced people on several nearby Pacific islands.
In Southeast Asia, the main refugees began with the Vietnam War. Malaysia bore the brunt of this wave, locating the boat people on Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Bidong.
Currently, Malaysia houses around 41,000 Rohingya refugees.
Refugees have become a major international problem necessitating the UN to promulgate the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in October 1967 with 146 countries as signatories.
They are accorded varying treatments in different countries but they remain under the auspices of the UNHCR, which oversees their welfare in the host countries and “processes” them for relocation to other countries.
There has to be a concerted effort among members of the UN to at best prevent the displacement of people and at the very least minimise their predicament.
As such the UN needs to restructure its plan of action to ameliorate the causes that contribute to the displacement of people.
If only wars or internecine conflicts could be banned and the major players in the UN abide by the peace protocol and resort to peaceful means of conflict resolution, the displacement of people (refugees) could be curbed or even redressed.
The writer is a lecturer at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang