Imagine running for your life in the middle of the night—maybe packing a few things, but most likely having to leave everything behind.
Nobody chooses to leave their home, their neighbours, friends, and family. Leaving is always a last resort, but for millions it’s the only option they have left. Worldwide, more than 65 million people have been forced from their homes by violence, famine, or natural disaster—the highest number since World War II.
In fact, by the time you finish reading this, one hundred people will have been forced to flee their homes.
Tomorrow, World Refugee Day, is an opportunity for Canadians to consider how we can do more to help; especially in the context of Canada’s new feminist International Assistance Policy, unveiled earlier this month, which focuses on supporting human rights and gender equality for the world’s most vulnerable people.
Refugees and other displaced people deserve a life with dignity and respect for their rights, but many lack access to healthcare, hygiene services, schooling, and employment—necessities that many of us take for granted.
Displaced women and girls have demonstrated incredible resilience, but continue to be at increased risk of violence, exploitation and child, early, and forced marriage, and have little access to the vital health care and protection services they need. Worldwide, 28 million children are out of school due to humanitarian crises, as attacks on education increase.
Despite this adversity, with adequate access to services and opportunity, displaced people can bring long-term benefits to the societies in which they resettle.
With three-quarters of refugees today living not in camps but side-by-side with host communities, the relationship between the two groups is increasingly important.
Governments at all levels play an important role in this regard. When refugees’ legal rights and protections are upheld, and when they have access to labour markets, skills training, social security, and basic services such as health and education, they bring unique benefits to their neighbourhoods, schools, and community organizations.
Canadians have experienced this firsthand.
Irish, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Sri Lankans, Vietnamese, Somalis and others from across the globe have come to Canada as refugees, in search of better lives. Their contributions to our social and economic development has been so substantial that it is hard to imagine a Canada without them.
Despite record-setting numbers, refugees make up less than 0.3 per cent of the global population. The global forced displacement challenge is entirely manageable. What is needed, ultimately, is political will, and a global commitment to concrete action.
Unfortunately, the responsibility for addressing these overlapping challenges is not being shared equitably. About 88 per cent of refugees are hosted in low and middle-income countries, where resources are often already stretched thin and service delivery systems are weak—places like Lebanon, where a quarter of the population is now refugees.
Parliamentarians, policy-makers, and thought leaders also have a role to play. Through open and informed dialogue in Canada and globally—including through the Canada-based World Refugee Council—they can help foster political will and the development of creative solutions to one of humanity’s most important challenges. Canada should continue to be a leader in being an open society at a time of rising backlash against women’s rights, xenophobia, and closing borders.
As we mark World Refugee Day, let us recognize the ways in which refugee-hosting families, communities, and countries are responding to the global forced displacement challenge. And let us also reassert our shared responsibility to demonstrate and grow this spirit of global solidarity.
This article also appeared in the Hill Times