World Refugee Day 2019 and the 70.8 Million

Back in the mid 90’s while living in Germany, I became personally aware of the plight of refugees. At that time, the Balkan wars were raging and Muslim refugees were coming to Germany. The were being housed in building where many lived together. One day, one of the buildings was burned out and the people there lost whatever little they had. I experienced their pain as I saw children and old folks left out in the cold in tears. Ausländer Raus (Foreigners Out) was painted in walls around town. As a foreigner, I wondered what would happen to me and my family. We were safe, we were Americans, we did not have to fear. Yet, the faces would not escape my memory. 

Years later, I led a team of USA doctors, nurses and other specialists along with my 14 year old son Matthew north of Skopje, Macedonia to visit Kosovo refugees while US Air Force planes bombed Serbian positions along the Kosovo borders. A vast sea of white tents with UNHCR (United Nations high Commission for Refugees) printed on the side provided shelter to large numbers of families. The stories I heard gave me a deep sense of responsibility for those who were forced out of their homes.

Besides them, I’ve also had the honor of getting to know Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims seeking refugee before they were exterminated in their home country. Syrians in Greece and Germany fleeing war. Chileans and Argentinians fleeing terror in Canada. Cubans seeking freedom in the USA. Palestinians living behind barbed wire in their own homeland. Sudanese trying to make a living in Egypt. My own people; Venezuelans in Colombia trying to make a living. 

Having lived in 12 nations I can relate to many of their experiences except for the terror they live with seeking safety, food and medicines.  
On this day, 20 June 2019 the world is being encouraged to recognize the plight of refugees everywhere. For me, “Refugees” no longer are just a problem out there. The tragedy of my own country of birth, Venezuela have made me feel the pain in my own skin. I now have relatives living in 8 nations! Four million have left mostly by foot to neighboring countries. They represent 12.5% of the population of one of the wealthiest nations.
One can discuss the myriad of reasons why people choose to leave their country of birth. The issues are usually complex and often have perplexing components. However, the fact remains that according to the UNHCR 37,000 are daily forced leave the familiarity of their place of birth, the language and customs they grew up to find a place of safety. 

It is important to understand that:

  • Refugees are people forced to flee to another country because of war or persecution. They are recognized as “refugees” because it is too dangerous for them to return home and they are protected by international law.
  • The majority of refugees stay close to home with most fleeing to neighboring countries. Only 1% of refugees are ever resettled in third countries. Turkey hosts the most refugees followed by Pakistan, Uganda and Lebanon.
  • Around the world, fewer than a third of people forced to flee live in refugee camps. Most refugees are actually struggling to survive in cities and towns. This is especially true for Syrian refugees.

A refugee is; someone who fled his or her home country owning to “ a well founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”- Khaled Hosseini
“To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult, it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory”-
Tennessee Office of Refugees

Things You Might Not Know About Refugees

  • Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror
  • 86 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosting by developing countries
  • The largest refugee camp is in Dadaab, Kenya and is home to more than 329,000 people
  • 51% of refugees are under the age of 18
  • The first-ever Refugee Team competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brasil