“World Refugee Day is a reminder that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only us, one human family, connected in ways we sometimes forget.” – Ann Curry
Today, humanity is seeing a significant shift that has never been seen before. Eighty million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has estimated that by mid-2020, global forced displacement had surpassed 80 million. That is the largest number of people since World War II. Current estimations reveal that of the previous 79.5 million forcibly displaced, 30 – 34 million (38-43%) are children below 18(end-2019).
Several people continue to remain displaced within their home country, so how many refugees are there in the world? Worldwide, around 26.3 million people have fled to other countries as refugees. Approximately 4.2 million people have applied for refugee status but have not received it. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), as of December 2019, 45.7 million people have been internally displaced. Due to COVID-19, it is unsure how border closings and travel restrictions have affected the number of new refugees in the world.
But before we delve into the type of people who had to leave their homes, there are three terms we need to be aware of that are used to describe different types of people who have left their respective countries, are on the move or and have crossed borders.
- Who is a refugee?
A refugee is a person who had to flee their country because of violence, persecution, or war. In todays world, the chances that a refugee has a valid fear of persecution based on religion, political opinion, race, nationality, or association with a particular social group area extremely high. It is also well-founded that refugees cannot return home or are terrified to do so, as their government can not protect them. Tribal and religious violence, war, or ethnic cleansing are the main reasons refugees flee their countries. Refugees have the right to international protection.
As of mid-2020, 67% originate from just five countries: Venezuela, Syrian Arab Republic, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.
- Who is an asylum-seeker?
An asylum-seeker is an individual who leaves their country and moves to another country, seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations. Interestingly, an asylum-seeker isn’t legally recognized as a refugee and is thus awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is also a human right, which means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.
- Who is a migrant?
Currently, there exists no clear, universally accepted definition of a migrant, but technically migrants are people who stay outside of their native country or state, which are not refugees or asylum-seekers.
Several migrants leave their country or state in order to find better living conditions, work, join family, or study. While simultaneously, there are migrants who have to leave because of political upheaval, natural disasters, poverty, or other grave issues that exist.
The key is to understand that, just because migrants do not flee persecution, they still have the right to their human rights being protected and respected, regardless of their status to the country they moved to. Governments must protect all migrants from forced labor, racist and xenophobic violence, and exploitation. It is fallacious to force or detain migrants to return to their respective countries for no legitimate reason.
- Who is an internally displaced person?
An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee their home but can never cross an international border. These individuals seek safety wherever they can: in nearby cities, settlements, internal camps, schools, even forests, and fields. UNHCR assists the largest groups of IDPs that also include people who are displaced by internal conflicts and natural disasters. Unlike refugees, IDPs are neither protected under international law nor are they eligible to receive most types of aid because they are legally under the protection of their own government.
Countries with some of the largest IDPs are Syria, Yemen, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The refugee crisis is a human crisis. There are tons of facts, articles, and statistics about refugees, but behind all this are humans, just like you and me. These misplaced souls have their own unique dreams for the future and have their own stories to tell. They are children, who are dreaming to have a childhood filled with candies, and scraped knees, mothers wanting to make a home filled with laughter at the dinner table, and fathers yearning to work again. Here are some stories of courageous people:
1) A 7-year-old girl named Alia had to flee her home in Aleppo, Syria, and settle in Damour, Lebanon. The move to Lebanon was quite a devastating one. Before they left, the last thing Aliya recalls of Syria is how her mother was taking her to their grandparents, and on the way, she saw how the roads were filled with dead corpses; most of them were decapitated, amputated bodies. It was gut-wrenching for young Alia, who could not hold her tears back. To calm her down, her grandfather made up a story, saying that they were mean people and hence were killed that way. Despite that, she still prayed for them because she felt that although some consider them mean, they were still human beings.
Behind her, Aliya left not only her home but also memories of her past. She had to leave her friend – Rou’a, in Syria; she misses going to school and playing Rou’a with her Atari. Aliya also misses her pigeons, whom she feeds and nurtures. She prays that someone is looking after them. She has a small kitten keeping her accompanied, who she absolutely adores. Aliya shares how she misses her home and hopes that one day she can return. Is a wish for normalcy too much to ask for?
2) Bizimana from Rwanda had to flee from his home to Burundi to escape the Rwandan genocide with his family at the age of two. From there, he was constantly on the move, shifting from one refugee camp to another in Tanzania. He now lives in Nairobi, Kenya. He was offered business start-up training, and after he successfully learned it, he went on to build a company that has quickly grown. He is ready to set up a café service. He is also an award-winning singer.
3) Yara, who is originally from Syria, had to flee her home and move to Tripoli, Lebanon. Yara has loved to sew since she was a child. The main reason for her love for sewing is because her mother had taught her when she was a young girl and said it would always be a useful skill. She never imagined that one day, this very skill would come to mean so much and provide her with the platform to earn a small income. Yara learned embroidery in a self-help group in Tripoli, Lebanon, led by local partners of Concern Worldwide. She attends two hours of workshops a day whilst leaving her youngest children at a partner-run kindergarten. Embroidery is a new skill that she learned, and it has helped her in keeping her mind occupied, and it stops her from overthinking. She finds it calming that embroidery requires her to use her hands and create something beautiful. Yara’s family was a close-knit family, but unfortunately, her parents and one of her sisters are in a refugee camp in Jordan, while two others are still in Syria. For the past two years, she has lived in Lebanon with her five children and husband.
4) Emmanuel is a migrant and is one of those who almost made it, who didn’t make it to Europe. Emmanuel left home with the dream of getting to Europe, where he was told that he would easily bag a job, which would mean that he would be able to look after his siblings. His parental figures were absent, and hence he felt he had no choice but to leave Ghana and try his luck in Europe. After months of traveling through West Africa by whatever means, he eventually made it to Libya, where men duped him €800, promising to take him to Europe. But instead, this turned into a traumatic event for Emmanuel, as these men abused and treated him with other men worse than dogs. They were later put on a small rubber boat that didn’t take them to Europe but instead were aimlessly floating around and basically lost at sea. They eventually drifted towards the Tunisian coast, where they were rescued and sent to a detention center in Tunis. It was only after a month, Emmanuel was released and returned to Ghana. He was provided with support to rebuild, inclusive of a small grant to help him start his yams transporting business to the market. Emmanuel finds himself lucky to have survived at sea, and his only dream now is to expand his business and employ other young people.
5) The 14-year-old Shafaq fled her home in Dera’a, Syria, and currently lives with her family in Bekaa, Lebanon. Before tragedy struck, she was living a peaceful life in an amazing home in Dera’a. She enjoyed the nature that surrounded her house and the food that was produced in her land. She recalls how the birds chirping would wake her up every morning. Unfortunately, all things came to an end when the brutality of the civil war forced her family to leave their beloved home and start afresh as refugees. At the beginning of their journey, they moved a lot to Lebanon, which led to Shafaq attending different schools. In the end, her family decided to move closer to the Syrian border in hopes to just survive. The only source of her family’s income is her father, who works as an electrician. Shafaq’s family lives in a small house and is considered illegal as they don’t have official documents. Because of constant moving around, Shafaq is two years behind in school. As she is a bright student, she aims to continue studying well and completing her education, which will help her support her family and also help those who want to learn. She considers herself lucky, as she got a lot of emotional, educational, and psychological support because of Al Jalil Center. But she still feels anxious about what the unknown future awaits for her.
- What can you do?
You can lend your support to campaigns that help refugees. The UNHCR works round the clock to assist and protect refugees from all over the world. There are several ways in which you can help UNHCR. You can help by making a donation (https://donate.unhcr.org/in/general/~my-donation) which will go directly toward the UNHCR’s worldwide field operations. The donation process is pretty simple, and you can give how much ever you want. UNHCR also appreciates support and help in the form of interns (https://www.unhcr.org/internships.html) and UN volunteers (https://www.unhcr.org/united-nations-volunteers.html) at their headquarters and other places.
Refugees all around the world have suffered unspeakable losses, whether they were displaced in their own country or sought safety overseas. Yet they are filled with potential and attain the power to triumph over adversity. We must share their sufferings, because we are all humans — and together, we can build a better world.
Written by: Edlyn Cardoza