On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, held every year on June 20, Dr. Widad Akrawi underscored the significant contributions of resettled refugees to their new communities.
“Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is a special day, in which we remember the over 43 million forcibly displaced civilians worldwide who had been trapped in war zones with no option but to leave their homes. Many of them have been at imminent risk of rape, kidnapping or even death. Today, we acknowledge their strength and resilience that is essential to overcome a life of hardship – a life turned upside down by acute health problems and increased vulnerability to violence. Today we direct our attention to all those who have to deal with uncertainty on a daily basis and those who are left with a profound sense of being in urgent need for life-saving help.
It is not possible to give accurate figures for the number of displaced individuals throughout the world, partly because of the lack of access to areas off limits to humanitarian agencies. However, the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, has estimated that as of now there are over 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced individuals around the globe, and it provides assistance and protection to 34 million of them.
The United Nations has decided to use “1 Family Torn Apart by War is Too Many” as a theme for this year’s World Refugee Day. Through this theme, we are reminded that if one family torn apart by war is too many what about over 40 million families? However, we can take actions aiming at reuniting children with their families and providing shelter, food and health care. We, in Defend International, are investing all available resources to lobby distinguished decision-makers and politicians at various levels, urging them to contribute to the protection of civilians who had no choice but to flee their homes and livelihoods to avoid persecution and possible death.
We are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of all displaced populations. Their challenges are many, but common for all refuges, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons is that they have either limited or no control over their own lives. Direct and/or indirect effects of armed conflict threaten their basic human rights. Often, they have to wait for decades for their fate to be decided. Desperate and traumatized, they may finally be able to return to their home countries or stay permanently in host countries, and a small percentage of them are given a new chance to have a normal life in a third country.
We are especially worried about the alarming numbers of refugees from Syria that have fled the two-year-old civil war to the over-crowded refugee camps of neighboring countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. In this context, we wish to call upon all Arabic countries to increase their efforts to fulfill their responsibilities towards the Syrian refugees. We also call on leaders in the MENA region to assist host countries by providing adequate funding to effectively meet the humanitarian needs of current, large-scale refugee influxes. At the same time, we urge both sides in the Syrian conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from using indiscriminate weapons in urban areas and to stop using civilians as human shields.
This is an occasion to demonstrate to the world that there are currently millions of vulnerable and displaced civilians who are in need for assistance. Although the world is possibly facing the worst economic crisis in its history, we must not forget the plight of refugees around the world. The international community has a responsibility to protect the rights of vulnerable asylum seekers, refugees, and returnees. We call on Member States, humanitarian agencies, and other stakeholders involved in refugee protection to ensure high standards of protection for displaced persons in neighboring countries. In addition, the availability of medical and legal services and accessibility to highly-specialized mental health services, with bilingual therapists trained in cultural competence, are vital to assess and address the impacts of various sources of stress on the mental health status of resettled refugees and refugee claimants. All these elements collectively will encourage the full participation of resettled refugees in their new societies.
We wish for all refugees, irrespective of their ethnicity or country of origin, a dignified and safe life. We hope they will be able to reunite with their family members and to find new homes.
Dr. Widad Akrawi
Oslo, 20 June 2013