This World Refugee Day, Oussama Mezoui, our President and CEO, urges all of us to do our part to help refugees and shares his personal story.
For myself and other ‘former’ refugees, World Refugee Day is more than just another day on the UN’s calendar. It is a reminder of just how different our lives could have been had we not successfully resettled into new host countries.
The world today is witnessing the highest level of human displacement ever seen. With over 70 million people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, persecution, and climate change, the number of displaced people worldwide exceeds the entire population of the United Kingdom or France. Almost half of these displaced people are refugees who have been forced to leave their countries entirely and of these, over half are under the age of 18.
You might be surprised to learn that middle income and developing countries bear the brunt of the world’s refugee crisis, not Western countries. Today eight out of 10 refugees are hosted by developing countries. These host countries already face major socio-economic challenges and the refugee crisis serves only to exacerbate these problems. Nations in Africa and Asia carry the burden of displacement with little help from the global community. Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda and Sudan each host millions of refugees. Contrast this with the US, where less than 23,000 refugees were admitted in 2018. In fact, the current administration has capped annual refugee intake to a meagre 18,000 per year.
For me these numbers aren't just statistics. I was once a child refugee fleeing a brutal war. On June 2nd 1992, a fortnight before my fifth birthday, my family fled Algeria at the start of a civil war that ultimately led to over 200,000 people losing their lives. We were amongst a few of the lucky ones able to escape. Fortunately for me, my family was able to successfully apply for asylum in the United Kingdom and start a new life. Not all refugees today are given that second chance.
As citizens of the world we have a collective responsibility to stand up for the rights of refugees. For those of us living in the US, we must take responsibility for the fact that too many of our tax dollars are spent on fueling overseas wars, and must acknowledge that our consumption habits help accelerate climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change reported that there could be as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050. In 2019 alone, over 24 million people were newly displaced by climate disasters, that is three times more than those displaced by conflict.
I have been involved in the humanitarian sector for over a decade and have seen firsthand the catastrophic impact of typhoons and hurricanes. I witnessed lives taken prematurely, homes and business destroyed beyond repair and entire communities uprooted. Global inaction, whether it is on climate or conflict, cannot continue.
The world’s refugees need us now more than ever. Not only do we need to financially support refugees to ensure they are able to access food, water, shelter and healthcare, we need to hold our elected politicians accountable for their lack of action. Words of solidarity must be coupled with acts of solidarity from us as individuals and from those we put into power. We must never forget our responsibility to the world’s refugees.
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