June 20th 2017 was the World Refugee Day – an occasion that celebrates the courage, strength and perseverance of millions of refugees. At Xpress Money, we’re taking a minute to reflect on the importance of this day, and why refugees deserve our compassion and solidarity.
Refugees aren’t just economic migrants
There are many migrants that move for economic opportunities. But thousands of families flee their homes for far more serious reasons every single day. From war and violence to famine and drought, there are many causes that render people homeless – or render it impossible to continue with their lives where they are.
For many, becoming a refugee isn’t a matter of choice. Rather, it’s a story of hardship, heartbreak and being uprooted from land, friends and loved ones.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres makes a compelling case for why we should understand the plight of refugees, and do what we can to ameliorate their suffering.
“This not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism.”1
Why are refugees in the spotlight now?
Just to set the record straight, there is nothing new about migrants, or refugees. There are approximately 250 million individuals2 living outside their countries of origin. But it certainly is a concern pushed into the spotlight because Europe and the West have been directly impacted in recent times.
Prior to 2015, only 14% of displaced people lived in developed countries.3 Most refugees fleeing strife would settle in the nearest safe locale, not far from where they were displaced. Palestinian refugees, for instance, largely sought shelter in Lebanon and Jordan. Afghans fleeing war made their way across a porous border to Pakistan.
But the Syrian refugee crisis brought home the plight of global refugees in very stark manner. It was the biggest movement of people to the continent since World War II.4 It prompted debate and analysis not just because of the numbers, or the violent nature of the conflict, but because refugees showing up in the developed world en masse meant their stories were better covered in the media.
How can I show support?
There were initiatives held around the world on the day. The UNHCR launched its #WithRefugees hashtag so people could declare solidarity and co-ordinate events.5 The UK hosted events like the RefuTEA party and the Cook For Syria popup restaurant. In the US, benefit concerts are raising funds for charities helping refugees.
But your contribution doesn’t have to be restricted to just that day. The important thing is to realise that the story of refugee suffering continues all year, round the clock. Acknowledging that is the first step. There are numerous charities helping refugees on the ground – with basic necessities like blankets, water and food, and they all have donation pages. Still other organisations regularly conduct drives for used clothing and other essentials of life. The important thing is to care, and keep your eyes open for ways you can make a difference.