“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.”
For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries.The UN General Assembly, on 4 December 2000, adopted resolution 55/76 where it noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) had agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on 20 June.
The General Assembly therefore decided that 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day.
The world’s population is on the move with one of the largest human migrations since the second World War. More than 60 million people around the globe are displaced either by conflict, war, hunger or natural disasters putting a tremendous strain on resources. More than half of the world’s displaced people are women and children and they suffer the most from sexual exploitation and violence, hunger and poverty, lack of basic education and health care. The average length of displacement is 17 years. 90% of displaced people worldwide do not live in refugee camps but in communities where they have no access to services provided by refugee camps such as health care and education.
Refugee children who spend their most critical development years from birth to age 5 often experience physical and emotional violence that disrupts their normal development. They suffer the consequences of health issues, PTSD, depression, and behavioral problems including severe aggression. These children will be our future generation. How will they cope? How will they be able be able to function in a future world and be the next set of leaders? The number of children affected is staggering. How do we protect the rights of refugee children and provide SAFE access to education along with basic health and psychological services?
In ISIS controlled areas of the middle east, women and girls are sold openly in slave markets to men who buy them for the price of a package of cigarettes, slightly higher if they are virgins. Girls are given birth control so they can be sold and reused many times. Sometimes they are used for organ donations, or simply for torture. On average every 10 minutes somewhere in the world, a woman gives birth to a stateless child.
Most refugee women do not seek out services out of fear, ignorance and language issues. It therefore becomes the responsibility of the destination country to make sure that women know about what services are available to them and with safe access. In addition, while education is perceived as important it is not a life-saving need and often comes after food, health, water, sanitation, agriculture, and infrastructure systems are put into place. Leaving refugee women out of education leaves them socially and economically desperate leading to various forms of violence and high-risk behavior (such as prostitution).
Refugee women coming to America are the least likely to have an education and to take advantage of offered services. Most stay home full time with family with no time to seek further education. Single mothers have the least time and resources to pursue an education. Barriers to women refugees include: Lack of tax benefits; employer flexibility; flexible course time and/or technology (if they can take advantage of courses offered); language issues and requirement for fluency in English first; stereotypical attitudes, patriarchy, perpetuation of cultural norms re roles of men vs women.
Refugees are usually treated as victims rather than a resource with potential that builds on their strengths. Many are viewed with fear by their new communities.
Louise McLeod is a World Community Advocate and volunteer in Bucks County, PA
“Women Graduates-USA works, with a national and international focus, to empower women to secure a better world through education, advocacy, friendship and mutual respect.”
VGIF (Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund)