- (Photo: AP Images / Emilio Morenatti)
In the days leading up to World Refugee Day, government bodies, donors and NGOs have been working harder to raise awareness for the more than 42 million refugees and internally displaced people who live in the world today.
And because of the tendency for people to view refugees as distant numerical figures, World Refugee Day supporters this year have been shedding light on their plight with the theme “Real People, Real Needs” in hopes of reminding people that each and every single one of the 42 million have a very human story to tell.
“Refugees are not faceless statistics – they are real people just like us who through no fault of their own have lost everything,” said Ron Redmon, spokesperson for UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency.
“So World Refugee Day is a good time to remember the 42 million uprooted people around the world who are still waiting to go home,” he added Friday.
Since 2001, World Refugee Day has been marked every year on June 20 under a resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly.
This year’s observance on Saturday is considered especially important as it falls during a time of “enormous global uncertainty,” as Redmon pointed out.
“[T]hose who work with refugees are struggling more than ever to meet even their most basic needs,” the UNHCR spokesperson commented.
And the “sobering reality,” he added, “is that there are substantial gaps in our ability to provide them with essentials such as shelter, health, education, nutrition, sanitation and protection from violence and abuse.”
The challenges are further compounded by lengths of displacement – some of which may be short-lived while others can take years and even decades to resolve, as UNHCR’s Antonio Guterres noted.
“We continue to face several longer-term internal displacement situations in places like Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia,” the U.N. official reported Tuesday, when the UNHCR released this year’s annual report.
Currently, nearly half of the refugees that UNHCR has taken responsibility for hail from Afghanistan (2.6 million) and Iraq (1.9 million) – the latter of the two reportedly having witnessed some 790,000 flee in 2008, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which released their own report last week.
And a disproportionate amount of the 1.9 million are believed to have been part of Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, which not long ago was 1.4 million-strong.
Since U.S.-led forces invaded the country and toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches have been bombed, and some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country.
And though the Iraqi vice president has publicly urged Christians to stay in Iraq and vowed protection, critics say nothing is being done to make this possible.
"The suffering of Iraqi Christians has been beyond description and is not yet over. More than ever, the Iraqi Christians need our prayer and support,” said Jonathan Racho, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for Africa and the Middle East.
On the Sunday following World Refugee Day, Christians worldwide will hold a second observance to raise awareness on the plight of refugees and likely devote special attention to Christians in Iraq.
On World Refugee Sunday, believers around the world have been called to support and pray for the uprooted people of the world, individually and through their churches.
“As Jesus calls his followers to be concerned for all of ‘the least of these,’ WEA (the World Evangelical Alliance) calls the worldwide evangelical community to participate in this event and pray for families who because of war, violence or disaster are forced from their homes and communities," urged WEA International Director Geoff Tunnicliffe, whose network of Evangelicals had a hand in World Refugee Sunday’s establishment.
"In our ongoing concern for the poor and the marginalized, WEA is pleased to be a part of promoting World Refugee Sunday on June 21, an attempt to mobilize the global church to pray for the more than 40 million refugees and internally displaced peoples,” he added.
According to UNHCR’s recently released “Global Trends” report, refugees and asylum seekers account for 16 million of the total 42 million uprooted people while internally displaced people uprooted within their own countries account for some 26 million.
On Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST (2 p.m. to 2 a.m. GMT), a new web site of UNHCR, www.refugeedaylive , will feature live video streams from Iraq, Pakistan, a refugee camp in Africa and a settlement for the displaced in Colombia.
UNHCR says it will be the first time in history that the world will be able to witness refugee camp life in real time. The first two nations highlighted will be Chad and Colombia. The rest will be announced at later times.