‘One is Too Many’

Today is World Refugee Day.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the international refugee agency), there are 43.7 million displaced persons in the world.

Forty four million, when you round up.

Forty four million people who aren’t living in their homes because of war, violence, famine or other natural disasters.

UNHCR was founded 60 years ago to help deal with the then 2.1 million Europeans displaced as a result of World War II. Six decades later this organization is working in more than 120 countries (I find that figure stunning), helping the 15.4 million refugees who have fled to other countries, 27.5 million ‘internally displaced persons’ who are homeless or living in camps within their own countries, and the almost 1 million asylum seekers.

One statistic I found compelling, and oddly reassuring, is that 85% of the almost eight thousand people who work for UNHCR work in the field, directly helping those whose needs they serve.

The underlying concept behind UNHCR’s work, and the theme for World Refugee Day, is the belief that ‘one is too many’.

I’d like to share a very short video expressing this belief. It was made by Angelina Jolie, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

Now I’m not interested in having this degenerate into a discussion about the merits of her acting skills, if she’s doing this for entirely altruistic purposes, whether six children is enough for her and Brad Pitt, or if she’s as gorgeous as they say. (Daughter maintains she is not.)

Take Ms Jolie’s visit this past weekend to the Turkish refugee camp where many Syrians are living temporarily in less-than-favorable conditions, having fled the terror and violence of the Syrian government crackdown on protests.

Some will see a woman who should be lauded for using her celebrity to bring attention to a difficult situation; others might see a calculated effort to raise her global profile as a humanitarian to ‘soften’ the perception of her as a homewrecking hussy while pushing up her box office revenues.

(By the way, how many years has it been since Angie ‘stole’ Brad from Jen?? Can we please get over this already? Seriously. That story has been beaten. to. death.)

As for me, I don’t care about any of that. I just see someone who is taking time out of her own life, away from her own family and friends, to raise awareness for the plight of people who need assistance.

Have I mentioned that it’s FORTY FOUR MILLION?!

That I am living in a country other than my own by choice and that I have the means and documentation to travel freely, enjoying the many sights and wonders of this world we inhabit while so many others in this world are ‘displaced’ by natural or manmade situations?

The irony does not escape me. 

If you’re interested, here and here are sites for more information, including giving of your time as well as money.

[I’m writing this in honor of two people: my cyber friend Tina Tinde, who has spent most of her life working with humanitarian and refugee projects including UNHCR in Cambodia; and Deborah, my colleague back in the day at the US Department of Defense, she was Director for Humanitarian and Refugee Affairs Policy.]


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