Today, in honor of World Refugee Day, USAID recognizes the strength and resilience of the more than 60 million people around the world who flee war, persecution, and human rights abuses in pursuit of safety and stability.
The world is facing an extraordinary time of conflict and crisis— the number of refugees and displaced persons globally is at its highest point since World War II. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 90,000 refugees seeking safer, more prosperous shores have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean by boat in 2015.
World Refugee Day marks an opportunity for the international community to recognize the plight of these uprooted families across the globe.
This year’s theme is ‘Get to Know a Refugee – Ordinary People Living through Extraordinary Times.’ The goal is to remind us that refugees are just like everyone else, that their borderless status is not the only thing that defines them.
As many advocates and international development professionals know, more than anything refugees seek normalcy – whether it is a traditional meal that reminds them of home or ensuring that their children continue their education.
The story behind the journey
A mission trip working with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic inspired my own personal identification and commitment to refugees.
After witnessing the social exclusion and instability that new refugees face, I knew that I wanted to help them re-establish their lives. With the resolve to protect the human rights of refugees, I became a resettlement caseworker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a USAID partner dedicated to serving refugees.
As a member of the reception team, I was the first point of contact for refugees arriving in the United States. I greeted refugees at the airport, helped them settle into their new homes, and connected them to vital social services.
I learned that refugees have two stories: one of their past and one of the future they dream of. Both are incredibly unique and complex. Understanding their background stories helped me bridge their worlds together.
I remember taking the bus with one of my clients to show him his travel route home. As a young refugee from the Near East, he told me his friends couldn’t believe he made it. His mom didn’t sleep for the two nights while he traveled to America.
He had watched a lot of American movies and he said that he felt like he was living in one. Although he had been in the United States only four days, he already visited a friend several hours away to prove that he could get lost and find his way back. Like myself, he left home at 17 to pursue his education and career, and had an insatiable sense of wanderlust.
As we shared our hopes for the future, we were colleagues, compatriots, and comrades. I encouraged him to not give up, because even with an education, achieving success in the U.S. takes patience and perseverance.
Although it has been many years since I personally greeted refugees with the IRC, their stories continue to influence my work in international development.
A commitment to the human rights of refugees
USAID is working around the world to support refugees by giving them dignity and opportunity as they regain normalcy in their new lives.
From Syrian refugees in Jordan to Rohingha refugees in Bangladesh, USAID equips families with the resources and support they need to meet their basic needs despite the extraordinary struggles they face every day.
The civil war in Syria has resulted in the world’s largest refugee population. Since 2011, more than four million Syrians have been displaced to neighboring countries. Through innovative food assistance programs USAID is providing electronic vouchers and regionally purchased food to refugees. With access to local ingredients, refugees can cook traditional meals—a small comfort that helps them feel more at home in an unfamiliar environment.
In Thailand, USAID is working with the IRC and other partners to provide long-term health programs for as more than 100,000 Burmese refugees. More than two million people from Burma have been displaced due to political instability and human rights violations. The USAID Support to Health, Institution Building, Education, and Leadership in Policy Dialogue (SHIELD) project provides access to essential health services and education for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons living on the Thailand-Burma border.
As we work to end extreme poverty, our Agency is committed to ensuring that every person, everywhere, feels safe, protected, and has the opportunity to thrive. Helping refugees and ensuring they are able to regain quality lives across the world is critical to this mission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- Learn about our support for families affected by the conflict in Syria.
- Read about how we’re bringing education to Syrian refugee children.
- Learn about our support for Burmese migrants.
- Follow @USAIDDRG, @USAID_DCHA and @USAID.