Taking a stand #WithRefugees, the thousands who risk their lives everyday in a quest for they and their families' safety
World Refugee Day was first initiated in 2001 to commemorate the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It marks a time when we honour those who face daily challenges and threats we can barely fathom. There are 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees, displaced by violence and civil unrest, between 2 and 3 million are children who aren’t in education, and over 3,500 migrants who died attempting to cross the Mediterranean last year alone. Unimaginable numbers, people who are so much more than a statistic in an article.
It’s when we should think about the conflicts of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere that seem far, far away from us. This day is a reminder of the millions from every continent that live in a dangerous limbo, uncertain where or when they can try to rebuild their lives. It’s a time to reflect on their bravery and resilience, and what we can do to help.
Reports from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights state that eight people (three children, four women and one man) were shot dead by Turkish border police while trying to flee from the north of Syria on Sunday. Since the beginning of 2016, 60 refugees have been shot at the border, according to the human rights watchdog. As the EU cracks down on Turkish visas and Turkey builds a wall, more and more refugees are left destitute and forced to put themselves in life threatening situations. These emerging deaths serve to highlight a relentless, sometimes fatal struggle for people suffering even before and ever since the beginning of the Syrian war five years ago.
And as we edge closer still to the EU referendum this Thursday, the narrative surrounding the refugee crisis grows, somehow, more poisonous. The ‘Leave’ campaign has used immigration as its main weapon to incite fear and panic. And though there are valid reasons for concern when it comes to the divisive topic, the narrative must remain clear and truthful. Last week, Nigel Farage’s poster campaign, which showed a crowd of migrants along with the words ‘Breaking Point’, was criticised for its Enoch Powell ‘rivers of blood’, Nazi propaganda-like plotline. Its tagline is bitterly ironic, given the people he relegates to almost subhuman are they themselves at breaking point.
So what should we do, this World Refugee Day? We should educate ourselves and attempt to follow a narrative of truth, holding the likes of Farage to account. We should humanise the sea of faces, and understand the most vulnerable: women and children now outnumber men, with a spike in unaccompanied minors by up to 37 per cent this year. Save the Children found that in 2014, 1 in 4 marriages among Syrian refugees in Jordan included someone under 18, and there are countless reports of sexual violence within the camps.
UNHCR will mark the day with their #WithRefugees petition, to ensure refugee children get educated, families have somewhere safe to live and people have access to work or development programmes to hone more skills to help them integrate and flourish in a new home. There’s a protest starting at Australia House at the Strand, London as people demand an end to the senseless loss of life along the borders. Bristol council’s Refugee Week is running a series of workshops, talks and exhibitions to raise awareness. You can donate to reputable NGOs like Save the Children, Red Cross Europe, Refugee Action and Migrant Offshore Aid Station which all oversee humanitarian work on borders, in camps and at sea. Or circulate the artistic and political projects that are shining a light on their plight, like The Worldwide Tribe Project and Andi Galdi Vinko’s photo series on the border of Serbia. You could volunteer with Avaaz to house refugees and offer language support, donate books to Calais with the Jungle Library or provide aid with Calais Migrant Solidarity. If anything, reflect on the millions of refugees as people forced to flee horrors they never should have seen, and not a piece of data.