20 June is World Refugee Day and this year’s theme is about the power of inclusion – “Together we heal, learn and shine”.
Every two seconds, someone is forced to abandon their homes, fleeing crisis. At least 100 million people were forced to flee their homes in the last decade, seeking refugee either within or outside the borders of their country. By the end of 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide.
This year’s World Refugee Day is unfolding against the backdrop of global crisis and social change, as the COVID-19 pandemic has left few lives and places untouched. The pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of women and girls, who constitute approximately half of those displaced; they face higher risks of gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, and have difficulty accessing justice, health and response services.
The critical gaps in gender equality are a key driving force behind the Generation Equality Forum taking place in Paris from 30 June to 2 July. The Forum will announce a set of catalytic Action Coalitions with acceleration plans on key areas that matter to all women and girls – from gender-based violence, to climate change, technology, health, and economic systems that leave women and girls behind.
On World Refugee Day, here are some voices of refugees and displaced people who step up every day to build a stronger, safer and more vibrant world, despite many challenges. Generation Equality stands #withrefugees today and every day.
Empowering women, youth and persons with disabilities in Jordan
“In 2012, a bomb hit my house in Dar'aa [Syria], and with that one bomb, my life completely changed,” says Ibstam Sayeed Ahmed, 40. “Momentary pain turned into years of pain. I had to learn to walk again, to adjust to only having one hand, support myself, and ultimately learn how to live again.”
Ahmed fled to Jordan with her sister, but they were separated at the border amid the mayhem of others fleeing. Her sister returned to Dar’aa and was killed days later.
“I was very alone in the world,” says Ahmed.
“Overcoming all of my hardships was difficult. My mobility was not my only barrier. Being a woman, alone in the camp, unsupported, added to my strain. But I did it! I took each day as it came, each new step, and reminded myself to keep on persevering.”
Ahmed got a job in the UN Women Oasis Center as a teaching assistant, educator and peer facilitator, which allowed her to financially support herself and save to pay for her medical bills. Today, she actively empowers women, youth and persons with disabilities to stand up for their rights and pursue an education.
“Empowering yourself is key to breaking any barrier that is in front of you. And in empowering myself, I then had the confidence to empower others,” she says.
Read more here.
Teaching girls to read and write in Bangladesh
“When I look around me, I see that women and girls in the Rohingya community are treated as less than men and are not given the same rights and opportunities,” says Rima Sultana Rimu, an 18-year-old peace activist in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, host to one of the world’s largest refugee settlements.
“This year, all the problems that the Rohingya girls and women are facing in the camps have been made much worse with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many girls have not been in school…There has been an increase in child marriage in the camps, and I have launched a campaign to raise awareness of how damaging this can be to girls.”
When Rimu started speaking out for women’s rights, some of her family members were in opposition. They told her she was disrespecting her religion and behaving improperly. She pressed on, determined.
“Most of the women and girls in the Rohingya community can’t read or write, so they cannot fully understand their rights,” says Rimu. “Without education, girls struggle to become economically empowered, which means they will never be in control of their own futures. Teaching girls how to read and write is one of the biggest ways I can make a difference.”
“I feel very positive and strong. I love this work and I have big plans for myself,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll even be Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Why not? I will not stop until every woman and girl becomes aware of their rights and can live happily and safely as equals.”
Read more here.
The power of sport in transforming refugee lives in Luxemburg
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Yonas Kinde has swapped the cheers of international races for the sounds of nature during early morning runs in the forest near his home in Luxembourg.
Five years after competing in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio as part of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team, Kinde now fits his training in around his other commitments – studying for a qualification in pharmaceutical logistics and working in a hospital pharmacy that is distributing COVID-19 vaccines. “In this difficult moment, it makes me happy that I can contribute, that I can do something for the COVID patients,” he says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, refugee doctors, nurses and pharmacy workers like Kinde have worked on the front-lines to contain the spread of the virus, treat patients and help people get vaccinated. But long-distance running remains Kinde’s passion. He rarely goes a day without training.
On World Refugee Day, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling on communities and governments to include those forced to flee in health care, education and sport. Giving refugees opportunities to get involved in sport can help them to gain confidence and feel welcomed and included in their new communities.
“Thanks to sport, I met a lot of important people in my life,” he said. “Sport gave me a family, not just in Luxembourg, but around the world.”
Working on the front lines of COVID-19 prevention in Uganda
By 9 a.m., the morning sun already feels hot in the Bidibidi settlement for refugees and displaced persons, located in the Yumbe District of Uganda. A steady file of women gathers around a borehole to collect water. They will repeat this chore again in the evening.
Forty-year-old Joyce Maka waits for more women to arrive at the water collection point. The mother of three is a refugee herself; she arrived from South Sudan in 2018, after the rebels had killed her husband. Today, she is among 12 peace mediators in the settlement, and she is here to raise awareness about prevention and health safety measures to combat COVID-19.
“We encourage them to stay at least two metres away from each other; we also encourage them to wash their hands before and after pumping water,” Maka explains.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Uganda rose, women peace mediators, who resolve community disputes and challenges, joined the fight against the pandemic in refugee settlements in the districts of Yumbe and Adjumani, bordering South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They meet people on the streets to have one-on-one conversations, making sure that every household has a hand washing point, clean racks to store utensils and access to toilets.
Read the story here.
Exemplifying solidarity in Turkey
Najmat Alsabah Mustafa is a Syrian community leader in Gaziantep, Turkey. As part of the ‘Home to Home Solidarity Programme,’ jointly run by UN Women and the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work (KEDV), she learned leadership skills and now helps vulnerable Turkish and Syrian women access healthcare, legal assistance, psycho-social and livelihood support.
Between December 2019 and April 2020, Mustafa and her colleagues visited 764 Syrian and Turkish women. However, when COVID-19 prevention measures made home visits difficult, the community leaders started using their phones to stay in touch with vulnerable women and provide help when needed.
“Through phone calls, I realized that the household chores of Syrian women doubled during COVID-19,” says Mustafa.
“I talk to many women who are over 65 years old. They tell me how the situation has psychologically affected them. Through the solidarity groups, we support each other. Women talk about their needs and problems, and together we try to find solutions. We also share our own experiences and ideas on how to divide household chores among family members,” she adds.
“As women, we are among the most affected by COVID-19 in our community. Because of community pressure, many cannot complain about their conditions. Thanks to the programme, we can reach women, and make sure their voices are heard by relevant institutions.”
“When we support each other, we can overcome all challenges,” Mustafa added.
Read more here.