It has now been almost two years since the world was confronted with the harrowing image of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. At that moment, there was an overwhelming sense of “Enough is enough” — a cry of anguish over the misery endured and lives snuffed out as refugees seek safety. In the time since then, thousands more have lost their lives while trying to traverse the Mediterranean, with 2016 becoming the deadliest year on record. Globally, refugees now number more than 22 million.
Yet the sad truth is that for many, especially in the prosperous Global North, refugees have slipped from the minds of citizens. When they do appear, it’s often because of irresponsible political rhetoric designed to stoke fears rather than foster genuine debate. Citizens of countries witnessing an influx of refugees sometimes feel overwhelmed, concerned that borders are no longer secure and that their jobs and way of life are under threat. Quasi-populist politicians have all too often exploited these fears — when what is needed is responsible leadership shaped by facts, principles and values.
But around the world, the plight of the uprooted is also driving thousands of acts of solidarity, from the Ugandan farmers sharing their land with refugees fleeing famine and violence in South Sudan to the Canadian communities offering a lifeline through sponsored resettlement programs to the teachers, employers, athletes, faith groups and volunteers working to foster the inclusion of refugees in the social, economic and cultural lives of their communities. It is their voices — the voices of compassion and humanity that often struggle to make themselves heard — that should guide our call for action this World Refugee Day.