Every minute, eight people leave family and possessions to escape war, conflict and persecution.
Today, June 20, the international community observed the United Nations World Refugee Day. I reflected on my own experiences as a refugee and said a prayer for all those men, women and children around the world who are desperately seeking protection. It is a very significant day because it gives us the opportunity to remember those displaced by conflict. As of 2017, 65.6 million refugees have been forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, conflict, war and violence have separated millions of refugees from their loved ones, which is indeed the most devastating fate for an individual to face.
Even one family torn apart by war and conflict is one too many.
My family and I were refugees, and we are forever grateful to Canadians for accepting us in this great country of ours. We truly believe that now we belong.
However, most refugees are not so lucky. Countries that are surrounded by conflict are struggling to keep up with the influx of a growing refugee population, and living conditions of refugees around the world are worsening.
Women are particularly vulnerable in these situations, and they often have to rely on men for a source of income, safety and protection. Extreme cases of gender-based violence, forced marriages, child marriages, prostitution and rape occur in these situations.
During a recent visit to Uganda, I met a mother from Somalia named Fatima. Fatima had walked for one thousand miles, alongside her five children, from a place near the capital Mogadishu to Dadaab in Kenya, which is the largest refugee camp in the world and is host to about half a million people. She had then found her way to Uganda in order to get away from the youth gangs at the camp.
She said that after walking for several days, her eldest daughter was gang raped by the militias while she and her other children were forced to watch. This of course traumatized her entire family. When they reached the Dadaab camp, she did receive help for her daughter. Although she was grateful for this, she learned that her sons had joined a youth gang and she was concerned for their safety.
She had faced such horrendous difficulties, but was very focused on finding ways to help her family to resettle and for her children to restart their schooling.
There are many courageous women like Fatima who have been forced to flee their home in dire circumstances to save the lives of their children. On this, World Refugee Day, I salute all these women and applaud them for their strength, courage and perseverance.
We won’t forget the plight of refugees around the world and the difficult conditions they face. We remember that this great country of ours, as it did for my family and me, can make a positive difference in the lives of refugees around the world.