Everyone I know in life has a nation to call their home. Almost all of my friends and family were born here in Canada and enjoy the privilege – and responsibility – of living in a free and democratic society.
There are those, however, who don’t have a country to call their own. The United Nations states that over ten million people in the world today – owing to their fear of being persecuted or even killed on account of their economic status, race, political opinion, or religion – have been forced to move outside their nation of birth and are unable to go back. They are called refugees.
The only solutions to refugee populations are repatriation back to the country of origin (which carry unparalleled risk), local integration into the new country of asylum (which is always challenging), or permanent resettlement to a third country (which can take many years to legally accomplish). The largest source countries of refugees are Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sudan. Yet the Palestinian Territories are still by far the largest source of refugees – and their descendants – in the world today.
World Refugee Day was founded by the United Nations in 2000 and is celebrated every year. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) commemorates the event in Washington, DC to raise awareness of the millions of refugees worldwide. Each year, UNHCR selects a theme and coordinates events throughout the world.
In 2010, the organization has created a video link on its website (www.refugeedaylive.org) that allows face to face communication with refugees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Damascus, Syria. Many people mistake refugees as those living in sprawling tented camps in rural areas. The reality is that more than half of the 10.5 million refugees in the world today live in towns and cities across the globe. The video link will give people the ability to hear from refuges and learn about their histories and struggles.
Refugees face incredible challenges, wherever they may be. Studies show they live with higher rates of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, flashbacks from traumatic events in their past, as well as physical ailments from wounds or malnutrition.
In accordance with international treaties that mandate certain countries receive a “quota” of refugees, Canada accepts thousands every year, even though far more (25,000) apply for refugee status. Only about 40% of refugee claims filed in Canada are accepted. Although a multicultural country, many refugees struggle with their new lives in Canadian society, and while the federal government provides assistance, much more must be done.
This isn’t to say that many don’t succeed here in their new land. In fact, contrary to myth, refugees who come to Canada contribute very positively to our economy. Many have post-secondary degrees, and those who come to Canada offset our declining birth rate and aging population.
On World Refugee Day, we acknowledge the long and difficult quest of more than ten million people around the world to one day live in a country they can truly call home.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”