October 24th is not just another day on the calendar. It is U.N. Day, an excellent time to take note of one of the accomplishments that the world body has achieved in its 72-year history.
The global institution has made it possible for many global citizens economic and social development. However, there is one issue in recent years that has garnered significant global attention, but regrettably has moved off the front page and out of the public eye. U.N. Day is a good time to return this matter to the forefront: The ongoing plight of refugees around the world. The topic may be flying under the radar for many, but not for the dedicated and loyal U.N. agencies who strive to make a difference in these people’s lives.
In the wake of the devastation following World War II, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950 to assist Europeans left homeless from the consequences of the deadliest conflict the world has ever known. In 1951, the Refugee Convention was formed defining what a refugee is as well as outlining the rights of displaced persons. Moreover, it lays out the parameters for State responsibility in protecting refugees. The fundamental principle of non-refoulement is the centerpiece of the Convention stipulating the core understanding that a refugee should not be returned their country of origin if they are facing imminent danger for their life or freedom.
A few short years later, the UNHCR would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 for its efforts on behalf of so many. Over fifty years on UNHCR is still working on the frontlines assisting those fleeing conflict, chaos, and violence.
The agency’s important work was only beginning when it was confronted with the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, which saw a nationwide revolt against the Soviet-backed government. The revolt caused 200,000 refugees to flee their homeland to the bordering nation of Austria where they sought safety from the violence. It was the Hungarian Uprising that would set the stage and shape the future of how global relief agencies would respond to such crises.
Today, there are 65 million refugees in the world. That’s equivalent to over seven New Jerseys. 24 people every minute must leave their homes; 34,000 people per day flee their countries in search of a better tomorrow. The Syrian conflict alone has forced 5 million people to flee to neighboring states as they seek sanctuary from the violence and hostilities that has persisted in this Middle Eastern nation for over 6 years.
There is another lesser-known statistic about refugees. We hear about people fleeing the dangers and disasters of their homelands and pouring into safer countries, but in fact 41 million are displaced within their own national borders.
The last several months has seen another flood of refugees – the Rohingya – flee Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh to escape the central government’s campaign of systematic torture and violence. Human rights groups posit that this terror campaign equates to ethnic cleansing. UNHCR estimates peg the number at 582,000 people who have fled. UNHCR has provided the necessities of life for the Rohingya. The U.N. relief agency is fighting displacement battles on several fronts, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and northern Nigeria. This taxes its resources. It is important that the international community continues to provide the proper funding so organizations like the UNHCR can continue its life-saving work. Many countries have decided that individuals who flee states because of political violence, or are simply seeking a better way of life, are not welcome. During times like this we must support the UNHCR. It is the go-to organization ready to respond to refugee crises.