Earlier this month, Collins Kaumba, a World Vision communicator in Zambia, shared his experience visiting a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan. His words were jarring: “Indelible memories of the suffering I saw in Darfur have followed me since the day I left Sudan…I have seen suffering and poverty in Zambia and other places in Africa — but not of the magnitude I saw when I visited Darfur’s camps…”
A reader in Israel commented on the post and made note of the thousands of Sudanese refugees there who are watching the situation in their homeland as the South prepares for its independence in just a few weeks.
Years of conflict in this African country have caused millions to flee for their safety — not just to other places within Sudan, but internationally as well. This is one global hotspot recognized as an origin of refugees. But the problem is much larger.
A UNHCR report (pdf) from last year notes that there were 43.3 million people forcibly displaced by conflict at the end of 2009, the highest number since the mid-1990s. The same report provides some other staggering numbers:
- One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan.
- Developing countries were host to four-fifths of the world’s refugees in 2009.
- Women and girls represent 47 percent of refugees and asylum-seekers, and half of all IDPs and former refugees.
- In 2009, 41 percent of refugees and asylum-seekers were children under the age of 18.
- More than half of the world’s refugees reside in urban areas.
Natural disasters around the world, such as flooding, also claim an increasing number of displaced persons — 42 million in 2010.
On a personal level, it’s difficult for me to imagine being forced to flee my home (and perhaps my country) because of violence or a natural disaster. I’ve simply never faced crisis of that magnitude.
So when I think of the millions worldwide for whom this is a reality, the idea becomes nearly incomprehensible. The most vulnerable refugees cross international borders with little more than the clothes on their backs — no money, no food, no medical care, no safe shelter, no education for their children, and often no legal recognition or protection.
How does one survive under such circumstances?
In observance of World Refugee Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes the following: “Let us reaffirm the importance of solidarity and burden-sharing by the international community. Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures.”
These words accurately reflect the circumstances faced by refugees across the globe. As Collins walked among war-weary displaced families at the camp in Sudan, he lamented the effects of war on the children he met — boys and girls who have been deprived of childhood innocence and the opportunity to go to school. Indeed, they have lost their homes. But as Christians and humanitarians, we must work to ensure that they don’t also lose their futures.
June 20 is World Refugee Day. Download the UNHCR full report (pdf), “2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” and consider making a monthly gift to support World Vision’s work with children affected by war and conflict around the world.