One of the unintended consequences of people fleeing their homelands as a result of conflict, terrorism, famine, and political and religious persecution has been an increase in right-wing nationalism and an anti-immigrant populist uprising as witnessed by the recent “Brexit” vote in Great Britain.
From France to Germany, Italy and Austria; from the Netherlands to Hungary and Greece, a wave of nationalistic leaders have taken center stage across the continent of Europe seeking to capitalize on the anti-refugee bias.
We in the United States have witnessed political rhetoric that feeds on the fears of the populace – real or imagined. Despite passage of the American SAFE Act in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, some seek to completely bar Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., fearing that refugees are posing as terrorists. The vetting process is extremely stringent, as it should be, but it is wrong to assume all refugees mean us harm.
Each year on June 20th the world comes together to mark World Refugee Day. Beginning in 2001 it is a time to commemorate the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees. The U.N. estimates that 65 million people have been displaced as a consequence of ongoing regional hostilities. This is the largest number ever to be reported by the U.N.
To place this figure into some perspective, consider this: one in every 113 people is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced. Furthermore, in 2015 24 people had to flee their homeland every minute due to conflict or persecution, according to the U.N.’s Global Trends 2015 report submitted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Countries with the largest proportion of refugees occurs in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, with Colombia producing the greatest number of internally displaced people (IDPs). Despite the rhetoric spewing from Europe and the U.S., the report highlights the fact that a majority of refugees have been centered in the developing world. The UNHCR Filippo Grandi emphasized this point by stating that, “90% of the displaced are not in the rich world – contrary to the perception of most people in the rich world.”
What is particularly disturbing from the report’s findings, and has escaped the extremist’s argument, is that more than half of the world’s refugees are children. They are the innocent victims caught between conflict and persecution and are most often separated from their families. It is the children who need the strong support from the international community.
Organizations like UNHCR and the United Nations Association have stepped up to help these children. When children are displaced and uprooted from their homes, they may not be in school and are being deprived of an education, although some camps have set up makeshift schools.
Through its work, UNA has begun a program titled: Adopt-A-Future. (http://www.unausa.org/component/content/article/17/487-adopt-a-future) UNA has identified more than 60 schools in 9 countries to be matched with American communities to build schools and provide school supplies. The program also includes support for refugees in U.S. communities. Adopt-A-Future will go a long way in providing opportunities for refugee children, and the Northern New Jersey Chapter will participate.
UNA has taken an active role in helping to assist these children in need. World leaders need to do the same. They should ignore the nationalistic fervor sweeping the U.S. and Europe and take the necessary action to help those the most vulnerable amongst us: our children. They deserve our very best efforts.