Imagine all those routine things you take for granted, like sending the kids off to school, going to work or to the shops, and coming home to the comfort of your home, maybe watching tv, spending time online, booking a holiday.
Then imagine it all disintegrating in the blink of an eye.
This is not fiction. This is reality for more than 50 million forcibly displaced people around the world today. These people are not instigators of war, of sectarianism or racism, nor of the greed and hunger for power that prevents some people from letting others live their lives.
They are people with no choice but to flee, leaving behind everything they have worked for, the lives they have built, their possessions, their plans, their dreams and their hope.
Often they do not know if their family survived, if their friends are now their foe, if there will ever be a day when they can return home, what they will find if they do return.
Refugee Day has been marked on June 20 in parts of Africa for many years, and the date was adopted by the United Nations as World Refugee Day in 2001.
A refuge is defined by the United Nations as: “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
86% of the world’s refugees live in the developing world. Despite their own poverty, these countries have kept their borders open to people in dire need of safety, almost half of whom are children. Their citizens have been generous in support of refugees, but help needs to come from the developed world.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is appealing for UN member states to support poorer nations and communities that have welcomed the forcibly displaced.
In his message on World Refugee Day, Ban Ki-moon said of the increase in refugees: “These rising numbers are a stark reminder of the international community’s inability to overcome its divisions to prevent and end conflicts. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and its partners continue to provide lifesaving assistance: water and sanitation, food and shelter, education and protection services. But a humanitarian response alone is not enough. Political solutions are urgently needed.”
Remember, this is a global problem. Many of those affected never thought they would be the next generation of refugees. As I said at the start of this article, life can change in the blink of an eye because of conflicts of which you have no part.
Maybe you feel helpless against such a huge and often distant problem, but we all have public representatives who can be lobbied to ensure our governments are contributing to long-term political solutions as well as shorter-term financial support.
The Secretary-General’s full message and a sample of personal stories can be found at https://www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/index.shtml
©Siobhán McNamara, June 20, 2014