June 20th is World Refugee Day, a time to acknowledge the resilience, courage and perseverance of the millions of people driven from their homes.
According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
Today, according to UNHCR estimates, more than 20 million people around the world meet that definition. Many of them flee their homeland to escape violent conflicts or belligerent extremists. Some are escaping human rights violations perpetrated by government entities or private militias.
Most often, people are running because their home towns have been turned into battlefields and staying means nearly certain death.
They run from Syria, where the government is killing its civilian population with bombs, bullets, and poison gas; from Libya, where civilians are caught in conflict; from Afghanistan, where Taliban extremists are waging a war against the elected government by setting off bombs in markets and sending suicide bombers into populated areas; from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Burma and many other places. These refugees share important characteristics – they all have been displaced from homes, families, and communities. They all have experienced loss and face uncertain futures. And they all look to the rest of the world, to us, for support, for hope.
This is a global crisis that is affecting more men, women, and children than ever before and for protracted periods of time.
In a time when so many refugees are fleeing violence and persecution, and nations around the world are struggling to cope with this massive influx of vulnerable people, it is time to remember that, in the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Refugees are people like anyone else, like you and me. They led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again.
“On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere."