June 20 is World Refugee Day. What do you know about the world’s refugee problem? Did you know there are more than 40 MILLION refugees in the world today? And that rather than shrinking, that number is growing? Between 2005 and 2006, the number of refugees increased 14% to a total of 9.9 million!
The largest group were the 2.1 million Afghans still living outside their homeland. The Iraqis were second, followed by 686,000 Sudanese; Somalis, 460,000 and people from Congo and Burundi, about 400,000 each. (The 9.9 million total does not include the 4.3 million Palestinian refugees nor 24.5 million internally displased persons, who are basically refugees who have fled to other parts of their own country)
In Quetta, Pakistan, the government and UNHCR are agressively working on repatriating Afghan refugees by closing two camps, Pir Alizai by July 31 and Girdi Jungle, by August 31. These are in addition to the camp closings along the North Waziristan tribal area near the border by the end of this month.
The fastest growing population of refuess is Iraqi. Nearly 4 million people have been displaced by violence- 1.9 million within Iraq, and 2 million to neighboring countries. And those countries, Jordan, Lebenona, and Syria are beginning to feel the strain of hosting these new populations. According to Refugees International, “Syria and Jordan are rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the numbers of Iraqis seeking refuge in their urban centers. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria consider Iraqis as ‘guests’ rather than refugees fleeing violence. None of these countries allows Iraqis to work. Although Syria is maintaining its “open door policy” in the name of pan-Arabism, it has begun imposing restrictions on Iraqi refugees, such as charges for healthcare that used to be free. In Jordan, Iraqis have to pay for the most basic services, and live in constant fear of deportation. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for Iraqis to enter Jordan or to renew their visas to remain in country.”
And of course, there is Darfur. Years of fighting and violence has displaced more than 2 million people in the region, killed more than 400,00 and the violence continues.
In addition to protecting and capacity building, advocacy is one of the UNHCR’s major tasks. And how does one advocate in the 21st century? Video, the internet and email are a major part of today’s refugee advocacy.
Darfur Is Dying is the result of competition bringing together technology and activism to help stop the genocide in Darfur. It is a “narrative based simulation where the user, from the perspective of a displaced Darfurian, negotiates forces that threaten the survival of his/her refugee camp.”
Eyes on Darfur is an amazing project by Amnesty International using high resolution satellite imagery to let you literally watch over 12 highly vulnerable villages in the conflict region. It is definatley worth a visit. Also available on the site is a way to send a letter to the Sudanese president and Ambassador in support of protecting these villages.
The Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) has a page that allows you to email your congressional representatives to encourage them to pass legislation to:
-Sufficient funding for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UN agencies
-Support for host governments and non-governmental organizations to provide shelter, health, nutrition, education, and other needs
– To protect the most vulnerable Iraqis such as women-headed households, unaccompanied children, or those in danger because they worked for the U.S. or a related Western organization.
Many humanitarian organizations have email campaigns. Make sure you check with your favorite to see if they have a special campaign for World Refugee Day.
Film & Video
Film is a very powerful media and it can be used for both education and advocacy.
FilmAid International‘s mission is to use the power of film to promote health, strengthen communities and enrich the lives of the world’s vulnerable and uprooted. In East Africa, Afghanistan, Macedonia and the US gulf Coast, FilmAid Int’l has several programs, including evening feature screenings, daytime educational screenings, a participatory video project called “My Reel Life,” and a youth video exchange project for displaced hurricane Katrina victims.
To learn more about refugees, and their lives and struggles, whether in camps, repatriated to their home country or relocated to a new one, PBS’s Point of View Documentary series has two new films airing this season.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
If the refugee is today’s tragic icon of a war-torn world, then Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a reggae-inflected band born in the camps of West Africa, represents a real-life story of survival and hope. The six-member Refugee All Stars came together in Guinea after civil war forced them from their native Sierra Leone. Traumatized by physical injuries and the brutal loss of family and community, they fight back with the only means they have — music. The result, as shown in “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars,” is a tableau of tragedy transformed by the band’s inspiring determination to sing and be heard. A Diverse Voices Project co-production.
Rain in a Dry Land
How do you measure the distance from an African village to an American city? What does it mean to be a refugee in today’s “global village”? “Rain in a Dry Land” provides eye-opening answers as it chronicles the fortunes of two Somali Bantu families transported by relief agencies from years of civil war and refugee life to Atlanta, Georgia, and Springfield, Massachusetts.