The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said on Thursday, as it highlighted the plight of millions of Syrians forced to flee their homes in its yearly report on global human rights.
The London-based rights group said millions of people who have fled conflict or persecution, and migrants who have left home in search of work, have suffered abuses at the hands of state authorities or employers.
“The most immediate trigger for this is what’s happening in Syria, where we have four million people internally displaced and 1.5 million refugees,” Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said.
“A quarter of the country has already been pushed out of their land and their livelihoods, and the numbers are growing.”
The Amnesty chief described the international community’s failure to end the bloodshed in Syria as “one of the greatest shames of our generation”.
Many Syrian refugees are living in “dire conditions” in camps on the borders with Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the group said in its review of human rights across the globe last year.
There are an estimated 15 million registered refugees worldwide, according to Amnesty, as well as around 214 million migrants.
Some 468,000 refugees, mostly Somalis, live in the world’s biggest refugee camp at Dadaab in Kenya, while more than 450,000 people have fled their homes in war-torn Mali. Around 130,000 refugees from Myanmar live in camps along the Thai border.
“These are among the most vulnerable people in the world, and it seems that they don’t have a voice,” Shetty said.
“The rights of those fleeing conflict are unprotected.
“Millions of migrants are being driven into abusive situations, including forced labour and sexual abuse, because of anti-immigration policies which means they can be exploited with impunity.”
Several governments came under fire for their failure to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers, including Hong Kong, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait.
In Jordan there were reports of foreign maids being “confined to their employers’ homes, denied pay, having their passports seized or being physically, psychologically or sexually abused by their employers”, Amnesty said.
Many of Hong Kong’s 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, it added, are paid less than the minimum wage and are forced to give hefty proportions of their salaries to recruitment agencies.
The rights group accused states worldwide of “showing more interest in protecting their national borders” than protecting the rights of people seeking work or refuge there.
In Europe, Amnesty accused governments of “putting the lives of migrants and asylum-seekers at risk” with their border control operations – and warned that foreign workers face increasing hostility there because of job shortages.
“Certainly in the context of the austerity measures within Europe, I would say there has been a ratcheting up of the anti-immigration scapegoating refugees and asylum seekers,” Shetty told a press conference in London to launch the report.
“People feel a growing lack of respect for rights for people seeking refuge in the European Union.”
Italy and Greece came in for sharp criticism over the way they dealt with new arrivals.
Many Syrians fleeing the conflict were being held in “very poor conditions” in Greece, Amnesty said, while the situation at one Athens detention centre was described as “inhuman and degrading”.
“Boats of Africans floundering off the coast of Italy were turned away from the safety of European shores again last year, because states claimed that control of their borders was sacrosanct,” the report said.
North African governments also came under fire for their treatment of migrants.
In Egypt, Amnesty said at least eight people had been shot dead last year by security forces while trying to cross the Sinai border into Israel, while in Libya “thousands were detained indefinitely, pending deportation, in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions”.
In Somalia, where some 1.1 million people have been forced for their homes during two decades of war and lawlessness, there were frequent reports of sexual attacks against women and girls living in the sprawling camps around Mogadishu.
Amnesty added that some countries forced refugees and asylum seekers to return to their home countries, including Sudan, Gabon and the Bahamas, while Ukraine complied with extradition requests even when the individuals sought had recognised refugee status.