Currently, there are fifteen to twenty million refugees. There may be more. There are millions of persons without a home, a community, a family, or any real belongings. These individuals have experienced violence that few of us in the can imagine. We sit in our safe havens, and occasionally, we watch the misery on television. We read of their lives, and the plight these people suffer. At times, some American citizens acknowledge that the refugees have lost their homes and their health. Their existence has been threatened. We know something; yet, we understand little. Our lives in the U.S. are so separate from those that were banished from their homeland. It is beyond sad.
As I reflect on the homeless in distant lands, I remember, there are those here in the United States that are also without permanent shelter.
During and immediately after Katrina and Rita, America’s poor and homeless were exposed to the elements; many still are. The storms gave light to those less fortunate within our borders; however, only, temporarily.
Some of these persons were seen by the masses; nevertheless, the focus was fleeting. Not long after the hurricanes America’s impoverished, injured, and ill citizens were once again hidden. These refugees joined the millions of American citizens who were without shelter before the squalls. The numbers are staggering. We may never have an accurate count for what we prefer to ignore.
Whether the life of a dispossessed American is as brutal as that of a refugee in distant lands, I know not with certainty. Personal perspectives will differ. I only know that I admit my own ignorance and this disturbs me. I am bothered by my own complacency.
We sound so very informed; I think, truly we know nothing. Few can fully imagine what life is like in these areas of the world.
Citizens in the States say New Orleans is this nation’s lesson. However, there is no real evidence that we are learning.
We in the United States think ourselves benevolent; we promise much. However, we contribute little to assist those most in need. We spend money at home and yes, even abroad. Billions go to promoting war. Peace and people, we pay lip service to that investment. I trust that is not our intent. I know personally, it is not mine.
Just as Morris Dees, founder of Southern Poverty Law Center advocates, I think it is vital, we must “Teach Tolerance.” Yet, today I realized, I, and most of us in this affluent nation, are “too” tolerant. We accept genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, rampant and malicious rapes, and conditions we cannot imagine. We endure these here at home in a moderate or muffled form and allow worse elsewhere. We avoid knowing what we know.
I acknowledge that I am guilty of this. For years, I have admitted such, and been embarrassed by my confession. I believe in a global community. I advocate this with my every breath; still, I attend to what is within my home country. I feel so powerless. I can barely effectuate change in the United States; how can I begin to broach an evolution elsewhere.
In this moment, I offer my words and resources. I invite each of us to investigate further and to take action. I hope this information will advance awareness and eventually prompt a progression. May we move from ignorance or tolerance to action. Ultimately, let us end all oppression. May people be free, healthy, and happy throughout the world. May expatriates be a thing of the past.
Many may wonder who qualifies as a refugee. Where are these persons from and where do they now live. What issues do they face and how are we, as a planet, planning for their future. I refer you to Humans Rights Watch. This organization attempts to answer our questions.
Reuters reports of the situation in an article titled, “From Flight To Hope: The Compromised Existence of Refugees. U.S. and World communities Must Act Now.” In this essay, Janis D. Shields of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) - USA discusses the problems facing “more than 20 million refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and others throughout the world.” She speaks of the deaths hey have witnessed, the family members they have lost, the destruction of communities, and identities lost. Ms. Shields makes mention of the physical, mental and psychological violence these individuals have experienced and asks us all to help.
Ashoka is another organization interested in saving the world from itself. Their “mission is to shape a citizen sector that is entrepreneurial, productive and globally integrated.” Their goal is “to develop the profession of social entrepreneurship around the world.” This group may also inspire any of us to act.
We hear of the conflict in Darfur; we might even read of the genocide. As quoted from “Darfur: The Genocide We Can Stop” I offer this explanation.
The Sudanese Government, using Arab "Janjaweed" militias, its air force, and organized starvation, is systematically killing the black Sudanese of Darfur. Over two and a half million people, driven from their homes, now face death from starvation and disease as the Government and militias attempt to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching them.
While this may say much, it might also leave some of us wondering. We want to know and understand more. We have questions. The British Broadcasting Corporation offers some answers. Please read, Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict.
Cable News Network Senior Africa Correspondent Jeff Koinange writes of refuges in a brilliant exposé. In an article titled, “No end in sight for Africa's suffering masses, Mr. Koinange offers a unique perspective.” His writing is personal and provides insights beyond those typically found in a news report. I offer a short portion of his missive so that you, dear reader, may taste the life of a refugee.
Editor's note: CNN's Jeff Koinange has spent years covering events from Africa, including visiting war and disaster zones and following the lives of refugees forced from their homes. Here are his reflections on the U.N.'s World Refugee Day.
ENTEBBE, Uganda (CNN) -- Just imagine for a moment that everything you own -- from your hard-earned money to your home to your car to little mementos like pictures on the wall -- has just been taken from you by a group of people who don't like the way you look or the shade of your skin or the shape of your nose. Everything gone except, perhaps, the clothes on your back.
You've been forced to flee, probably separated from your family and end up on the run with a bunch of people you've never met, but with whom you now share a common goal -- staying alive.
Many hours or even days later, you arrive at a shelter run by an international nongovernmental organization.
You're tired, exhausted, sick to your stomach and scared to death. You end up sharing a tent with 40 to 60 other strangers where your bathroom, bedroom and kitchen combined have all been reduced to little more than the size of a normal bed.
And this will be your home for the next few months, perhaps years, and in some cases, decades. This is what it's like for a person fleeing persecution, war, civil strife, genocide.
Imagine living like this for years if not decades, raising your family in a refugee camp because you can't go home. Even if you do manage to go home, you learn someone else has taken over your land, your home, your life.
I've seen that person many times, that face that says, "I too once had it all but one day lost it all." Faces of refugees across the Africa I've been traversing for the past decade and a half, from Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa, from Congo to Tanzania in the center of the continent and from Somalia to Sudan in the East.
Their stories are as heartbreaking as they are gut-wrenching, lives turned upside down in the blink of an eye.
Another CNN reporter, Christiane Amanpour covers the refugee story as the CNN Chief International Correspondent. Her viewpoint is also informative. Ms. Amanpour shares her own story as a refugee. She was an Iranian citizen and now lives in exile. Ms Amanpour speaks of “The shocking truth about covering refugees.”
Editor's note: CNN's Christiane Amanpour has reported on refugee crises from many of the world's conflict zones including Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans and Iraq. Here are her reflections on the U.N.'s World Refugee Day.
LONDON, England (CNN) -- I suppose I am most attuned to the plight and particular circumstances of refugees, because I am one myself. When the Islamic Revolution swept Iran, my homeland, back in 1979, I left the country and came West. I ended up at a university and later at CNN in the United States.
I think this experience has helped me in my work as I have spent the past 16 years on the road covering war, crisis, poverty and famine. Their inevitable byproduct is refugees.
In 1991, shortly after the United States and its allies declared victory in the first Gulf War, I found myself covering the Iraqi Kurds -- nearly 2 million of them, according to U.N. officials -- who fled to neighboring Turkey and Iran and became refugees. They had followed a not-so-veiled suggestion by then-President George H.W. Bush to rise up against Saddam Hussein. A violent crackdown by Saddam killed many and forced the rest to flee. They came back only when the United States and its allies created a protected no-fly zone for them in northern Iraq.
Just a few months later began the Balkan revolving-refugee crisis, ethnic cleansing and genocide that consumed the 1990s. I witnessed that war for all those years and watched in horror as millions of men, women and children walked, ran or drove away from their killers and tormentors, to end up homeless, friendless and rootless in strange countries far from home. I'll never forget the sad, lost, tear-stained little faces pressed against the rain-streaked windows of the buses they were packed in. They wanted to believe they would be leaving for only a short time, but they ended up staying away for years. About 650,000 have never returned 10 years after the war ended, U.N. refugee officials say, but the good news is that more than 2.5 million have come back.
There is much to be said. This situation affects millions, though billions are avoiding it. I only offer a glimpse into the world of refugees. Further exploration must be yours, or mine. I can no longer put the refugees out of my mind. They are not as the refuse I place at the curb for the trash man to take away. they are people, no different in make-up than you or I. On World Refugee Day we honor the displaced, may we do this each and every day. May we unite and begin being as we believe is best.
Please Plunge into Awareness. Peruse the references offered below.
• CNN Dedicates Programming to World Refugee Day Coverage CNN News. June 19, 2006
• Keeping the Flame of Hope Alive United Nations Refugee Agency
• Millions mark World Refugee Day, Reuters AlertNet. Source: United Nations Refugee Agency. June 20, 2006
• Katrina's Refugees, By Carol Rust, Staci Semrad and Dirk Johnson. Newsweek August 31, 2005
• New Orleans after Katrina: Back to Stone Age Associated Press. China Daily September 7, 2005
• Homeless in America By Raven Tyler. NewsHour. December 11, 2002
• Picturing the Homeless, on Their Terms By Jennifer Ludden. All Things Considered, National Public Radio. October 24, 2004
• Katrina & Recovery National Public Radio.
• Morris Dees, Center founder and chief trial counsel. Southern Poverty Law Center
• Teaching Tolerance, Pioneering Anti-Bias Education Southern Poverty Law Center
• Southern Poverty Law Center
• Senate Approves $66 Billion for War Efforts, By David Welna. National Public Radio. Morning Edition. June 15, 2006
• Sudan: Promises and Plans AfricaFocus Bulletin. April 27, 2005
• The Triumph of Evil Frontline. Public Broadcasting Services
• World Refugee Day Ashoka.
• United Nations Refugee Agency
• Humans Rights Watch.
• Refugees International
• Welcome to Refugees International's Action Center.
• Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict.
• Activists in US Rally for Peace in Darfur as Analysts Discuss Roadblocks, By Catherine Maddux. Voice Of America. June 20, 2006
• “Darfur: The Genocide We Can Stop”
• Ashoka's Mission
• Rape, brutality ignored to aid Congo peace, By Jeff Koinange. CNN News. Friday, May 26, 2006
• “From Flight To Hope: The Compromised Existence of Refugees. U.S. and World communities Must Act Now.” By Janis D. Shields. Reuters. June 20, 2006
• No end in sight for Africa's suffering masses, By Jeff Koinange. CNN News. Tuesday, June 20, 2006
• Jeff Koinange Jeff Koinange, CNN's Africa Correspondent
• “The shocking truth about covering refugees.” By Christiane Amanpour. CNN News. Tuesday, June 20, 2006
• Christiane Amanpour CNN’s Chief International Correspondent