Posted by on June 20, 2014 in Blog

By Emily Cooke
Summer Intern, 2014

On Friday, June 20th, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) commemorates what is arguably the “most urgent story of our time”– a story fraught with unspeakable hardship and irreconcilable loss, the story of the world’s 51 million refugees. As the current refugee population surpasses the record highs of the World War II era, World Refugee Day encourages people everywhere to contemplate the forces that expel so many from their homes and celebrate the inspiring resilience of millions.

In the United States, World Refugee Day events span from Colorado to Florida, but in the course of the day’s celebrations, more than 14,200 people worldwide will flee their homes with little more than a hope for a better life.

Bitter wars, divisive conflict, and persecution are the preeminent forces that drive people to cross international borders and seek refuge in U.N. camps. While a state of suspended, seemingly endless transition awaits many refugees, these camps have become a haven for people of all walks of life, whether professionals, writers, or artists. The camps become physical manifestations of courage in their relentless pursuit of happiness.  

This year, World Refugee Day takes special note of Syrian refugees, and the neighboring Middle Eastern countries that continue to heed international calls for action. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than two million people have fled Syria, resettling primarily in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. What’s more, 50 percent of Syrian refugees are children.

Recent conflict in Iraq has only compounded the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, with U.N. estimates of displaced people in Iraq reaching 1.5 million. Increasingly, Iraqi citizens endure a plight similar to the more than 150,000 Syrians that have settled in Iraq. Now, large numbers of both Iraqis and Syrians must seek refuge in Jordan. 

In early June, Secretary of State, John Kerry, pledged an additional $290 million in a show of support for increased humanitarian aid to Syria. Today, Kerry praised the United States for being the largest donor to humanitarian relief worldwide, and he commended the American assistance that “saved lives and eased suffering for 4.7 million people inside Syria and more than 2.8 million refugees in neighboring countries.”

Nevertheless, U.S. efforts to resettle Syrian refugees remain markedly lacking. Monetary support is vital, but until financial aid coincides with discernible efforts to allow more Syrians entrance to the United States, American assistance will remain insufficient. Many organizations, including AAI, are working to make sure Syrian refugees are able to enter the United States more easily and have adequate assistance from local communities when they arrive.

Kerry also praised the resilience of refugees and highlighted the importance of welcoming diverse communities to our country. “America was a haven for those seeking freedom from persecution, hunger, oppression, and war,” he noted. “Today, refugees continue to look to America for relief and opportunity. These refugees, many of whom arrive having lost everything, become some of the most resilient, entrepreneurial, and devoted citizens we have.”

World Refugee Day affords an opportunity to reflect upon the struggles and champion the successes of over 50 million refugees worldwide. It is also a necessary reminder that “one family torn apart by war is too many.”

You can read refugee stories from UNHCR and share your own here. Follow their Twitter page for up-to-date information.

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