Two days ago, we announced that an unprecedented number of people have been forced to flee their homes. More than 82.4 million men, women and children have had their worlds turned upside down by war, violence and persecution. While the rest of us spent much of the last year at home to stay safe, they had to run from their homes just to stay alive.
And as world leaders are seemingly unable or unwilling to make peace, more and more displaced people pay the price. In the past three years alone, some one million children were born into a life of exile. What will their futures hold? What opportunities will they have to achieve their potential?
Today, World Refugee Day, should serve as a stark reminder to politicians of the need to do more to prevent and resolve conflict and crises. And of the imperative to protect people irrespective of their race, nationality, beliefs or other characteristics. Of the need to speak out and fight injustice, instead of fueling division and fomenting hate. To resolve to find pragmatic and lasting solutions to crises instead of blaming others or vilifying victims.
Simply put, leaders need to step up and work together to solve today’s global challenges.
Yet World Refugee Day is also an opportunity to celebrate the fortitude of refugees. Those who have been stripped of everything and yet carry on, often bearing the visible and invisible wounds of war, persecution, and the anxiety of exile.
Over the past several months, a time dominated by the pandemic, we have seen that refugees – while needing, deserving, and having the right to international protection, safety, and support – also give back to each other and to their host communities.
When given the chance, they have run to the front lines of the COVID-19 response as doctors, nurses, cleaners, aid workers, care givers, shopkeepers, educators, and many other roles, providing essential services as we collectively battled the virus. We have seen them and their hosts selflessly share meagre resources and help lift those in the greatest of need.
Next month, we will see them in another arena demonstrating what can be achieved if included in society and given the same opportunities as the rest of us: refugee athletes will approach the starting line as they compete with the world’s best in the Tokyo Olympics.
So on World Refugee Day, as we pause to express solidarity with refugees in our communities and around the world, I hope each of us will also acknowledge and admire the drive, determination, and contributions made by people forced to flee. My colleagues and I have the privilege of witnessing their tenacity and achievement every day, which – especially today – should be a source of inspiration for everyone, everywhere.
Originally published on UNHCR on 19 June 2021