They won’t go away if we ignore them. They won’t stop taking to the boats or setting off on their desperate, dangerous journeys if we refuse to rescue them or give them shelter. Nor would we.
Some of them have never known safety, stability, a home and a job and a school for the kids. Others had all of these things until something changed – a war, a change of government, a new ideology, an earthquake or a flood – and then had to leave them all behind. This is a humanitarian crisis but as Richard Branson said this week, it’s also a moral one. It needs political will, financial aid, but also human empathy and generosity, the instinct for fairness and hospitality. The answers aren’t easy but we have to find them, collectively.
Fifteen years into a millennium that many of us hoped would see an end to war, a spreading global violence has come to threaten the very foundations of our international system.
More people fled last year than at any other time in our records. Around the world, almost 60 million have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children. Their numbers are growing and accelerating, every single day, on every continent. In 2014, an average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced persons, every single day – that is four times more than just 4 years ago.
These people rely on us for their survival and hope. They will remember what we do.”
– António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Refugee Day, June 20th 2015.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.
Ordinary people, in extraordinary situations. Ordinary people driven from home, by war, persecution, poverty, natural disasters.
Greeks fleeing the destruction of Psara in 1824, Armenians in 1899, Spanish Civil War (1936-9), Czechs from the Sudetenland in 1938, Russian refugees near Stalingrad 1942, Partition of India 1947, Palestinians from Galilee 1948, Hungarians in 1956, Tibetan exodus 1959, Igbo refugees in Nigeria in 1966, Bangladesh in 1971, Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, Cyprus in 1974, Salvadorean Civil War ( 1975-82), Afghanis from 1979 onwards, Mariel boatlift ofCuban refugees in 1980, Vietnamese boat people in 1984, Rohingya people from Burma 1991 onwards, Bosnian refugees in 1993, Rwandans in 1994… And so many more, before and since.