World Refugee Day – a global challenge

 

Sir, – As we mark World Refugee Day tomorrow, it is staggering to contemplate that the number of vulnerable people forcibly displaced globally now stands at almost 82.4 million, the highest figure on record.

The statistics are truly heart-rending. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 30 and 34 million of those displaced are children. Some 86 per cent are hosted in developing countries. And only 120,000 displaced people were returned to their homes or resettled in 2020.

When a person’s homeland becomes a desert or a battlefield, they have no choice but to move. Sadly, the combined impact of conflict, Covid-19 and climate change contributed to the increased numbers of those forced to flee their homes last year.

Turkey has the largest number of refugees, currently hosting 3.7 million people who fled Syria during the 10 years of brutal conflict. Most had decent lives which have been changed beyond belief. They have lost homes, jobs and some have lost loved ones.

Mary Robinson summed it up well at the launch of a moving new EU Humanitarian Aid-funded Goal documentary on the lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey this week when she said: “These are just ordinary people like us. Forced out due to circumstances beyond their control to face terrible barriers, and to have to create new lives for themselves.”

I hope that the months ahead can see the tentative Syria ceasefire currently in place expanded into a more lasting and ambitious political settlement. But it is extremely fragile and complex.

Ireland has an important role on the UN Security Council. As a co-penholder with Norway on the Syria humanitarian file, Ireland can be that much-needed voice for multilateralism and humanitarian protection and must use its influence to ensure that everything is done to achieve lasting peace, as well as the rapid and effective delivery of essential aid.

The reality is that Goal, and the wider humanitarian community and host government countries, cannot meet the needs of the scale of the global displacement of people. It behoves us all to press our leaders to strive for a better outcome for those uprooted from their homes. And now is not the time for Governments to cut back on vital humanitarian aid budgets.

Sadly, Goal is seeing increasing demand for support for the displaced and refugees. In addition to Goal’s humanitarian response programmes across the globe, we expanded our work last year to respond to the growing Venezuelan refugee crisis in Colombia. In addition, with generous support from Irish Aid, we are providing shelter and relief to thousands of newly displaced families in Tigray in Northern Ethiopia.

The theme of World Refugee Day this year is “Together we heal, learn and shine”. It is only by the international community, governments, the private sector, and humanitarian organisations working together in partnership that we will create a more inclusive future for all.

What is needed in our world is a lot more love, not war or indifference. World Refugee Day is our moment to remind the millions of displaced people that they are not alone, and that we stand with them. – Yours, etc,

SIOBHAN WALSH,

Chief Executive,

Goal,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.