On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 20 to be World Refugee Day, a day intended to draw attention to the plight of tens of millions of people are displaced from their homes each year. Since 2018, more than 70 million people have been compelled to leave their homes by violent conflict and persecution, famine, disease, and natural disasters. They come from all parts of the world. They seek refuge, a place of safety and respite, in all parts of the world.
Today, we, as humans, as a globalized people, are more interconnected than ever before. The daily news demonstrates that well enough. As such, more than ever, we have a responsibility to think beyond ourselves and to empathize with others. What we do affects our global ecosystem, which includes the transcontinental human community comprised of so many thousands of smaller communities. Many think of refugees as “other” or “them” … as “illegal” even. That kind of thinking reflects a lack not only of empathy but also of any reasonable attempt to understand the history and current contexts of the people who are compelled, through violence or fear or starvation or disaster or health crises, to leave their homes.
Today, I ask you to take a moment. Think about what it would take to force you from your home, to embark on a harrowing journey across thousands of miles of sea or land, on the barest hope that you might find something called refuge somewhere else. People do not become refugees because they want to. Most don’t migrate to take things from other people. They, like all of us, do what they think they must to protect those they love, to find freedom, to find room to live and work and learn, to hope and dream, to build communities, to practice their beliefs, to sleep without fear. They come from so many backgrounds. They are farmers and laborers, artists and artisans and musicians, teachers and nurses and doctors and accountants and business owners and clerks and herders and miners and engineers, all of whom deserve our respect just as we expect others to respect us. They deserve more than angry walls and violence and cages and slurs.
Today, I ask you to try to hear or read or watch or otherwise learn about the stories behind the numbers. You are more than a statistic. So are the people compelled by the nature of their circumstances to become refugees. Think, too, about how truly sparse our society might be without the diversity of so many different people. Without wondrous variety. A garden with just one plant not only is somewhat lacking and insufficient but also will not survive long. Diversity is essential for survival. Consider just how much every migrant to the United States has contributed to the building of this nation, which ironically was founded by migrants who did take from others, who also enslaved and forced others to become migrants.
Please, take just a few moments to think beyond what you know or what you think you know. I’ve provided some resources to do so below.
The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, signed by 146 state parties, including the United States, protects the following rights of refugees (among others):
- The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;
- The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;
- The right to work;
- The right to housing;
- The right to education;
- The right to public relief and assistance;
- The right to freedom of religion;
- The right to access the courts;
- The right to freedom of movement within the territory;
- The right to be issued identity and travel documents.
One Refugee’s Story: “11-year-old Syrian girl forced to grow too fast”
This post has gotten long, so I will post some kid lit resources for World Refugee Day (and every day) in a separate post.