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Seeking Sanctuary: Refugees as Courageous Individuals, not Statistics

The United Nations has designated June 20 as Refugee Day, a time to foster empathy and recognize the resilience of refugees worldwide. This year’s theme, “Hope Away From Home,” highlights the pressing need for hope, even though the current situation for refugees seems far from optimistic.

According to the United Nations, there are now over 100 million refugees and displaced individuals across the globe. These staggering numbers reflect the devastating impact of conflicts and disasters in regions such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Myanmar, and Venezuela.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized the urgency of providing hope, opportunities, and solutions to refugees regardless of their location or circumstances. However, refugees and displaced people continue to face daily struggles, particularly in Western countries that should champion human rights and dignity. Instead, they often encounter growing hostility.

Politicians exploit the term “refugee” to incite fear, leading the public to associate it with crime, poverty, and insecurity. Meanwhile, refugees and displaced individuals endure unequal and unjust treatment while still grappling with the traumas that forced them to flee their homes.

A Syrian defender supported by the McCain Institute, who successfully relocated her family to a safe place, expressed her belief that “the world harbors animosity towards refugees, excluding blonde Europeans”. Unfortunately, this sentiment resonates among many refugees. Some international human rights organizations have also pointed out the double standard applied to refugees from the Middle East and Africa, noting that countries previously hostile to refugees have shown support for Ukrainians.

The remarkable solidarity extended to Ukrainian refugees should be extended to others as well. The Ukrainian war should remind us all that our lives can be turned upside down in an instant. It is crucial to recognize that refugees are not in our countries to steal jobs, but rather to seek survival and secure a safe future for their families. A refugee, who wishes to remain anonymous, aptly states, “The things that unite us are much greater than those that differentiate us. If only our new community would give us a chance to get to know us, I am confident they would reach the same conclusion. We are not merely statistics; we are individuals striving to care for our children and secure a better future for them.”

Berivan Orucoglu is currently the human rights defenders program manager at the McCain Institute. In this role, she works with the senior director of the Democracy Programs to provide transition assistance to human rights activists forced to flee their surroundings because of threats – thus enabling them to remain engaged in the fight for human rights.

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Berivan Orucoglu, Human Rights Defenders Program Manager, McCain Institute
Publish Date
June 20, 2023