On World Refugee Day, Like Every Day - We See People, Not Refugees

Refugees are people who have left everything behind - escaping from war, violence or persecution. But they are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children - who still have dreams and ambitions. On World Refugee Day - like every day - we pause to honor Humankind above all the figures. Being a refugee is not a choice.

This week the UNHCR announced that, in 2018, there were nearly 71 million people across the globe who were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced.

That's 2.5 million more than in 2017.

That's 37,000 people forced to leave their home every day.

People that left everything behind - escaping from war, violence or persecution, fearing for their lives because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, ethnic background or other.

Being a refugee is not a choice

Extreme violence in Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, DRC, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Iraq or the Rohingyas exodus from Myanmar, among others - have meant millions and millions of people forcibly displaced over the past years.

Each refugee’s story is different, but in all cases, life changes drastically. In many cases it means leaving all their loved ones behind, hoping they will see them again, at some point in the future.

They leave their professional lives behind, in many cases moving into the black market or having no options for employment at all.

Photo of Za'atari refugee camp: We see people, not refugees. Credit: Oxfam

Leaving dreams behind

They leave many of their dreams, hopes, plans and ambitions behind.

In many cases they entrust their life to smugglers, and undergo long and dangerous journeys with uncertain ends. Some people do not even make it, and die in the journey.

They might be threaten, sexually abused or exploited, raped, humiliated, demonized, regarded with suspicion, denied their rights, feel like a stranger, uprooted even hopeless.

Amid and despite all of it, refugees find the necessary courage and determination to get on with their lives, seeking ways to rebuild their lives.

And they have so much to offer, enriching and contributing to society in many different ways, they bring their cultural heritage, their experiences, knowledge, skills and energy to create.

I cannot even start to imagine what it means to undergo such a traumatic experience. But what I know is that humankind is central to the answer. Refugees and displaced people are not numbers and statistics.

Some host governments, some citizens and political parties, even some of the media - have dehumanized them and turned them into statistics.

But “refugees” are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children. They are teachers, small farmers, nurses, musicians or taxi drivers with names, faces, stories - and the same right for a dignified future and fearless tomorrow, as we all have.

It is time for solidarity, humanity and compassion - and also time for governments and the international community to take responsibility for the root causes that fuel and force millions of people to flee.

We have a legal, but most important a moral obligation. Being a refugee is not a choice.

This entry posted 20 June 2019, by Franc Cortada, Oxfam International Global Program Director.

Photo: The train station is also a transit camp for refugees trying to cross the border between Macedonia and Serbia. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

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