Reasons to Care about World Refugee Day

DSC_0523Each year on June 20, we commemorate World Refugee Day to salute the courage and resilience of the world’s refugees and displaced persons.  This year, I have marked the day by visiting Hol Hol refugee camp and reflecting on Djiboutian values of tolerance and charity practiced every day and especially during the holy month of Ramadan, as highlighted in President Guelleh’s recent Ramadan message.  For decades, Djibouti has provided safe refuge to refugees who have fled violence and famine.  This year, we have seen Djibouti open its borders to thousands of people fleeing Yemen.  Again, Djibouti has provided a lifeline to people in need.  This generosity will not be forgotten – either by the refugees, the United States, or by the international community.  I have been humbled both by the Government of Djibouti’s actions and by the many private contributions made by Djiboutian citizens to alleviate their neighbors’ suffering.  On behalf of the United States Government and people, I want to say thank you.

The United States also wants to do its part.  Last year, we provided more than $6 billion in humanitarian assistance to aid agencies helping vulnerable people around the globe, and we resettled nearly 70,000 refugees referred by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  To assist with needs in Djibouti, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced during his historic visit here an initial contribution of $2 million to UNHCR for its operations in Djibouti, with more U.S. government humanitarian funding expected in the near future.  Finally, we want to continue highlighting the need to support the world’s refugees and displaced persons.  According to the just-released UNHCR Global Trends Report, nearly 60 million people have fled their homes as refugees, internally displaced people or asylum seekers.  It is a staggering number – equivalent to one in every 122 people on this planet.  Now, more than ever, the world’s refugees and displaced people need our help.

Here are three more reasons why all of us – governments and individuals alike – should take heed.

1. These aren’t just numbers, they’re people. They include Yemeni families, escaping Houthi rebels and unrest, South Sudanese mothers who have walked hundreds of miles carrying small children to safety, Syrian families fleeing Asad’s relentless and indiscriminate barrel bombings, and girls who fled Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.  They are people like us, who find themselves stripped of everything they have and struggling to survive as they contend with circumstances beyond their control.  Despite all of this, they haven’t given up on themselves.  We can’t give up on them either.

 2. Assistance makes a difference:  Sixty million people is hard to envision.  It is even harder to understand how one could help such a large number of people.  But we know this:  From Djibouti to Somalia to Ukraine to Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance is easing their suffering and keeping millions of people alive. In partnership with governments like the Government of Djibouti, The UN Refugee Agency, the UN World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a vast array of other aid organizations are doing heroic work every day wherever there is conflict and displacement.  

3. Helping refugees is an investment in global stability:  The international community needs to remember that helping uprooted people is not just an act of charity for people far away, it is an investment in stability everywhere.  The migration crises roiling the Mediterranean and South East Asia illustrate how conflict, oppression, and desperation have consequences that can spread far beyond places beset by war and conflict.  Aiding uprooted children is particularly urgent. The UN Children’s Fund has warned that one in every four children and young adolescents in North Africa and the Middle East are either out of school or at risk of dropping out today.  Those children, the opportunities they have and the choices they make, will determine the future not only of embattled nations like Yemen, and Somalia, but for many countries in the wider region.

The United States is committed to assisting the world’s refugees and displaced people.  We are proud of our contributions, though we know that people caught up in crises need more.  Refugees and displaced persons need an end to these conflicts, their rights protected, and efforts to bring suffering and exile to an end.  Until then, we will continue to press internationally to close the yawning gap between the aid available and the mounting needs – by donating, advocating to keep borders open, and offering safe haven to those in need.   There are people just like you and me who are depending on it.

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