Living in a country like Australia, it’s very easy to be desensitized to the global humanitarian crisis that sees approximately 65.3 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, with 21.3 million of those being refugees. In this day and age, it’s hard to comprehend figures so astounding and what’s worse, the sheer number makes us feel powerless. What could one person possibly do to help alleviate this crisis? When it’s something that we aren’t physically seeing, it’s very easy to shut it out of our minds. Without being exposed to it, this tragedy feels miles away, almost as if it’s happening on another planet. But unfortunately it’s happening on our planet, every single day.
At present, almost 4.9 million people have fled Syria as a result of the nearly 6-year-long conflict. Followed closely behind is Afghanistan with 2.7 million people living abroad as refugees. Another 2.2 million people have fled the Lake Chad Basin area, escaping from the social unrest that continues to escalate. South Sudan has seen 1.1 million refugees and Somalia has seen 1 million people flee to seek asylum in neighbouring countries. Globally, one in every 113 people is either a refugee, internally displaced person, or asylum seeker. To put that in perspective, that amount is bigger than the entire population of the United Kingdom – or Australia, New Zealand and Canada combined.
As this crisis grows, it’s easy to turn a blind eye and continue living our lives completely removed from the fear and terror that these people experience. The simple act of walking outside each day for these people is like playing Russian roulette, with dozens dying in their home town, family members going missing, children being tortured, and it doesn’t end there. When they make the heartbreaking decision to flee, whether escaping by land or sea, the journey is fraught with danger. Most refugees are fleeing to refugee-friendly European countries, hoping to find acceptance and a new opportunity. Yet on that journey they risk starvation, hypothermia, disease, drowning, or worse still – being sent back to where they came from. Leaving behind their lives in the hopes for a new future, there’s still a strong chance that they could end up in asylum, locked away indefinitely, or worst case, considered an illegal immigrant and be sent back.
Whilst the situation looks incredibly grim, there are ways that we can help. One way is to make a donation through companies like UNHCR or World Vision who help refugees access food, shelter and emergency supplies. For something closer to home, you can also register with Airbnb Open Homes platform which allows you to open your home to refugees and displaced people, offering your room free of charge. A small contribution might not seem like much, but never doubt that one person can make a difference.
When we live in a world where reality TV stars take precedence in the news headlines, it’s important to ignite global collective consciousness and bring to light this issue that is continuing at unabated levels. Rather than speak of the refugee crisis in terms of economics and security, speak with compassion and empathy. Place emphasis on maintaining hope and optimism and focus on what should be the universal goal – providing protection for those most vulnerable.
*A group of Syrian refugees arrive on Lesvos after fleeing on an inflatable raft. Image via The New Yorker.
*Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Image via The Independent.
*Syrian refugees wait in hope on the Syrian side of the border near Sanliurfa, Turkey. Image via The Catholic Sun.
*A refugee boat. Image via Massimo Sestini.