June 20th is World Refugee Day

Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres states “Our duty to the people we serve is to work together to move from fear of each other to trust in each other. Diversity in all its forms is an asset, not a threat.”

Let us recall our common humanity on World Refugee Day, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to displaced people everywhere.

COVID-19 is affecting the lives of refugees and migrants too

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shatter lives and livelihoods across the globe, and it is the most vulnerable who are being hit the hardest. This population includes refugees, internally displaced people and migrants in precarious situations, who are facing three crises rolled into one, according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

COVID-19 is at first a health crisis, and people on the move can be exposed to the virus in crowded conditions where health care, water and sanitation are often hard to find, and physical distancing is “an impossible luxury”.

They are also confronting a socio-economic crisis, especially those working in the informal sector who have no access to protection schemes.

“In addition, the loss of income from COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal $109 billion drop in remittances”, said Mr. Guterres. “That’s the equivalent of nearly three-quarters of all official development assistance that is no longer being sent back home to the 800 million people who depend on it.”

The final crisis surrounds protection, with more than 150 countries imposing border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. The majority make no exceptions for people seeking asylum.

“At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatization”, he added. “And the already precarious situation of women and girls is ever more dire, as they face higher risks of exposure to gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation.”

Refugees and displaced people are just like you and me

Every minute 30 people leave everything behind to escape conflict or persecution.

What would you do if conflict threatened your family? Stay and risk your lives or try to flee, and risk kidnap, rape or torture?

We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees – over half of whom are under the age of 18. Over a half of all global refugees come from Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria.

There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

It is heartbreaking to see borders being closed, people perishing in transit, and refugees and migrants alike being shunned, in violation of human rights and international law. The human cost is profound: millions of jobs lost, millions of children thrust out of school, and lives haunted by trauma and intolerance.

TOGETHER is a United Nations campaign that promotes respect safety and dignity for refugees and migrants. Its aim is to counter the rise in xenophobia, intolerance, racism and discrimination by:

  • changing negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants, and
  • strengthening the social contract between host countries and communities, and refugees and migrants.

Definitions of displaced people and NZ’s response to refugees

There are several types of forcibly displaced persons.

  • A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
  • Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.
  • Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region from the one they call home within their own country.

Migrants make the decision to move based on choice so are very different from refugees. They choose to move to better their circumstances such as to escape poverty and unemployment or to reunite with family members, and are often able to decide where they will migrate to.

New Zealand currently resettles up to 1,000 refugees every year through the Refugee Quota Programme, and we are only 1 of 37 countries that regularly accept refugees annually.

Sources: NZ Red Cross Refugee Services and United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Published on Thursday, June 4th, 2020, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 23/06/2020

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