Today on World Refugee Day it is important to think of the 22.5 million people who are currently living as refugees. It is also important to educate yourselves on the lives of these people and the reasons why they have become refugees. The media often reports on the civil war in Syria which is responsible for producing 5.5 million refugees yet Syria is not the only country producing refugees. In fact, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda now hosts the largest number of refugees at about 270,000 people. Most of these refugees are fleeing violence in South Sudan and make harrowing journeys to get to Uganda. According to UNHCR’s most recent report, Africa hosts 30 percent of the world’s refugees. Yet, not all of these refugees are recently displaced and many have actually been living as refugees for more than 15 years.
Last month, I spent two weeks in Ghana interacting with Liberian and Ivorian refugees who have been living in Ghana for as many as 21 years. The Liberian refugees fled to Ghana in the 1990’s and are still living in Ghana despite losing their refugee status several years ago. They are now considered to be temporary residents but still live in the same camp that they entered many years ago. The Ivorian refugees have been in Ghana for around six years and receive more assistance because they still qualify as being refugees. Yet, even their services are lacking because of a reduction in funding. The news likes to discuss issues that are current and then cycles on to the next most current tragedy. This results in forgotten crises, like the refugee situation in Ghana. Last year, UNHCR-Ghana was 0% funded which means that not one single person directly donated to their cause. Instead, UNHCR had to allocate other funds to Ghana which resulted in them receiving less funds than they had hoped for. This reduction in funds meant that more programs had to be cut which resulted in refugees receiving less services like livelihood training and recreational activities.
Many of these refugees expressed a desire to be resettled in a third country like the United States where they would have ample opportunities and a new start in life. Yet, while America does offer a variety of services the experiences of refugees here are often very challenging. I work with a family of 8 who moved to America last year and is still struggling to transition to life in a new country. Little things like taking the bus or going outside were challenging and scary for a long time and bigger things like learning English and securing jobs are still posing problematic. The family misses their friends and relatives who are dispersed around the world and sometimes they just get tired of constantly having to learn a new way of life. These feelings are completely normal and valid. Yet, they only receive aid for the first 90 days of their arrival and after that they are expected to transition into life on their own. That’s a fairly quick turnaround for people who are new to the country and the language.
So how can you help? Becoming educated on refugees around the world and in your hometown is very important to becoming a better global citizen. You can also consider volunteering but it’s best to ask your local refugee resettlement agency or NGO what type of help they need before bringing in donations or food. While your heart may be in the right place these donations may not be needed and can actually be a hindrance on the group that you are giving it to. Another option is to donate money. Money is always needed both locally and abroad. This money can go a long way and can really make a difference in a refugee’s life.
Stay informed and don’t let these 22.5 million people go forgotten. They deserve more than that.