June 20th marks the observation of World Refugee Day, a day dedicated to spreading awareness for, and extending compassion to, the millions of refugees that face hardships from fleeing conflict and persecution in countries around the world. According to the UNHCR, there were approximately 26 million refugees by the end of 2019. This data is provided in accordance to the UN’s definition for refugees from the 1951 Refugee Convention. Even more, an additional 45.7 million people are internally displaced due to conflict, economic, and environmental issues.
Understanding these numbers is an important part of our understanding of the complexities and conflicts of world events that have affected large numbers of innocent civilians. Conflict plagues nations and endangers the lives of those desperate to live in peace, and to provide a space of safety and security for their families. Helping these displaced populations is a challenge of its own, as humanitiarian aid and funding addresses the needs of refugees from resettlement to healthcare.
The aim of this internationally recognized day, is to promote inclusivity and equity for all, and to shine a light on the able-bodied individuals that face adversities beyond their control, in order to encourage the international community to do its part in supporting those most vulnerable and in need. It is pertinent that we motivate our communities to think outside ourselves in order to encourage our networks and governments to respond positively to refugees and help support these vulnerable populations to enable them to thrive.
Understanding and listening to the stories of refugees can help those of us with means to assist, to further become educated about global conflicts that threaten human rights. If you look around your neighborhood and social groups, you will most likely come across at least one person who has an indirect or direct relationship to a refugee or asylum seeker. As founders of an organization that seeks to empower a population that has been notoriously affected by instability and conflict, we know our represented communities best understand the issues faced by refugees.
All of Us: The Echoing Story of Immigrant Afghan Families
Here at Afghans Empowered, refugee awareness runs at the heart of our mission, and our lives. As Afghan-Americans, our parents came to America as refugees. Like many children born to refugee parents, our every day experiences and opportunities are heavily influenced by the hardships and sacrifices made by our parents, as they pursued a better life for themselves, and their future generations. Born in the early 1960’s, our father witnessed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the peak of conflict in the 1980’s. His aspirations to become a mechanical engineer at Kabul University came to an abrupt halt as the prospect of serving in the Afghan army became real. As the conflict escalated, he made his way onto a long, tiring journey to Pakistan where he entered as a refugee seeking settlement. My mother’s story wasn’t much different. She left Afghanistan in 1992 amidst the rise of the Taliban regime. Her youth was marred by the conflict between the Mujahedeen and the USSR, which was hard to ignore as men in her family sided as active fighters in the conflict. Her family was forced to flee to Pakistan, like millions of Afghans during the wave of exodus in the 1990’s.
My family members made their way to all corners of the world: from Germany to the US to Australia. The conflicts in Afghanistan drove families apart, and prevented them from seeing one another. Particularly in my grandmother’s case, she hadn’t seen her eldest daughter for over 20 years until her daughter finally could resettle in Germany. Each member of our family echos the same stories: a life of peace and purpose, working in decent careers and having financial opportunities for their growing families, only for it to all be taken away within a short span of time, as violence escalated rapidly.
When we sit and listen to the stories of our parents’ lives and those of our relatives, we come to learn that the definition of refugees and the current views, simply fail to humanize these vulnerable populations. Our families never desired to undergo such hardships of statelessness, danger of persecution, and fear of death. They were never a threat to the countries they resettled in, nor were they abusers of the social welfare systems in these countries as some anti-immigration groups claim. Quite the opposite, my father has been after the American dream since his arrival. He built a life and career for himself since his arrival to Nashville, Tennessee. Like many in America, opportunity kept driving him West until he reached California. With the few resources he had, he made an honest living and carried on to making a living to support his growing family, putting us in a low middle class bracket. My mom and dad never ceased to work hard, always motivated by their determination to give their children limitless possibilities in America.
The trials and tribulations they faced produced challenges within our home setting. However, my parents’ experiences as refugees, and expatriates of a beloved country, would remain as humbling foundation for our lives.Their story echos through the millions of homes of Afghan nationals, and beyond. The dangers faced and sacrifices made, are all part of the difficult journeys refugees undergo around the world, in pursuit of a life of peace and security. These populations are nothing more than able-bodied people facing vulnerable times. As we reflect upon World Refugee Day, we would like to thank the institutions such as the UNHCR, and the NGO’s from the US that helped my parents resettle to America. We continue to support these large organizations that are tasked with the challenges of providing aid to millions of displaced refugees. We wouldn’t be here if not for the sacrifices made by my parents and the support provided by international organizations that brought them to safety. We extend our support to the initiatives and missions of these organizations to address the current 26 million refugees around the world.
You can help make a difference this World Refugee Day. Promote the stories of refugees who’ve overcome insurmountable obstacles to build successful lives. Use your platform to educate your peers about the bleak reality of the growing numbers of displaced people, and provide context to the conflicts that have caused displacement. Encourage others to advocate for the human rights of refugees, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious views, sexual orientation, etc. because we all deserve the same protections to our basic human rights. Donate to NGO programs that provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations or volunteer at local offices of NGO’s that address the needs of resettled refugees and asylum seekers.
Take a step towards action this World Refugee Day.
(Image sources: UNHCR, Amnesty International)