World Refugee Day: acting for safety, justice and dignity

19 June 2020

Topics: "Black Lives Matter" "world refugee day"

Ayesha with her 5-year-old daughter inside their shelter in Jamtoli Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar Photo by Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace
World Refugee Day marks the achievements and struggles of more than 70 million refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people across the globe.

On this day we’re called to recognise the lives of these courageous people who have been forced to leave their country due to persecution on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.

Since our inception, Act for Peace has worked to support refugees to achieve safety, justice and dignity.

Our partners, many of whom are refugees themselves, provide lifesaving services to their communities. Our supporters dedicate themselves to helping provide food, shelter, and medical care.

We work with refugees to ensure their voices are heard in UN debates and by governments. Together, we’re improving the policies and systems which ensure their safety, dignity and rights are respected - and permanent solutions to displacement are found.

We work together to expose the root causes of the persecution refugees endure. The racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination they suffer is an injustice that must be overcome.

This year, World Refugee Day falls at a significant time in our history.

Whilst Australia is recovering from COVID-19 and a season of catastrophic bushfires, refugees and other people affected by conflict or disaster are facing multiple levels of tragedy.

In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, many refugees are living in conditions that don’t allow social distancing, that don’t provide sufficient water, soap or hand sanitizer, and have limited access to health facilities.

Ayesha (picture above) is one of them. She is raising two small children in a crowded refugee camp after her village was burnt and members of her community were killed and tortured. Home became a place her family had to flee from, so they could escape discrimination and violence.

The world’s most vulnerable people, including refugees like Ayesha, will be dramatically affected by the long term economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

The World Health Organisation (WHO[1]) predicts those facing acute hunger will rise from 135 to 250 million globally, raising the risk of famine, political violence and conflict. The World Bank[2] predicts that an additional 40 to 60 million people will fall into poverty in 2020, erasing almost all of the poverty reduction gains of the last five years.  

With this crisis in the forefront of our minds, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into focus the horrific systemic abuse perpetrated against individual human beings and their communities because of the colour of a person’s skin.

This abuse is levelled by neighbours, by the larger community, or by the very government authorities that are meant to provide protection. This is happening here in Australia, and overseas.

Inequity, discrimination, and other forms of violence are systemic, historic, sometimes hidden, and never acceptable.

The anti-racism protests became global as people related to the discrimination they could see on their screens and how it was related in their experiences in their own countries. We have been reminded to look at ourselves, the people next to us, and the government we vote for.

These last few weeks and months have, at times, exposed us to the best of humanity. We’ve seen the generosity of Australians helping the most vulnerable, even as they struggle themselves. We’ve seen the ongoing vision and work of refugees in pressing forward to find safety, dignity and justice. We’ve seen people of colour speaking out about discrimination and violence for the sake of others.

Sadly, we’ve also seen and heard the worst. Hoarding of toilet paper, acts of racism and xenophobia, the endorsement of extreme violence by world leaders, and the gross manipulation of truth in the suggestion that violence would be endorsed by Christ. 

This World Refugee Day, we must pause, examine ourselves and our role in creating the world we want to live in.

And most importantly, we must act.