I’ve been privileged to learn from refugees all over the world, in places as far-flung as Turkey, Greece and Bangladesh and as close as the dinner table with my son-in-law.
I’ve listened as men described running away from their villages with children tucked under each arm as Myanmar soldiers shot at them with machine guns, as mothers describe having their babies torn from their arms and thrown on bonfires, of rape and torture. I’ve heard the dad who was an architect in Syria finally decide to leave because the bombs were so close, they were keeping his children awake at night. He lost everything but his family.
I’ve listened to the gut-wrenching tragedy of a family whose 4-year-old was kidnapped and held for ransom, then beheaded within hours when the ransom money wasn’t gathered quickly enough. Of course they left. So would you.
Refugees are people just like us. They love their families. They want them to be safe. They want their children to have more opportunities than they have had. They want to live.
Here’s what we need to remember: Refugees leave because no matter how frightening, long and potentially deadly the journey, no matter how horrible the conditions where they end up, it’s still better than where they were.
On Thursday, World Refugee Day, another 37,000 people were forced from their homes by persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. In fact, every day in 2018, another 37,000 people, half of them children, were forced to flee. That’s 25 every minute of every day. The number of displaced persons has now passed 70 million, or about 1 in every 100 people alive in the world.
According to this year’s UNHCR report, more than two thirds (67 per cent) of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million), Myanmar (1.1 million) and Somalia (0.9 million).
High-income countries on average host 2.7 refugees per 1,000 of population, middle and low-income countries on average host 5.8. Poorest countries host a third of all refugees worldwide. We can do so much better.
For the fifth consecutive year, Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 3.7 million refugees. The other countries of with the most refugees were: Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million) and Germany (1.1 million). Lebanon, a tiny country, continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee. Jordan (1 in 14) and Turkey (1 in 22) ranked second and third, respectively.
In Donald Trump’s America, the number of refugees allowed in has been slashed to 30,000 a year, or about one-third the historic average. In FY 2018, only 22,491 were allowed to enter the U.S. and of that number, only 62 were from Syria, the country with the highest number of displaced persons in the world.
Fearful, hateful rhetoric is running fast and high — and it’s turning deadly. A pro-refugee German politician was shot this week at point-blank range, executed for his humanity, with additional death-threats issued. The threats to people looking for compassionate, realistic solutions are growing as the hunkering down into insular tribes continues.
The fear and the hate need to stop. We can do better. We must do better. We have a moral obligation to do so. Refugees have heartbeats, too.
If you are interested in celebrating World Refugee Day, there is a gathering sponsored by 10 organizations working with refugees in Utah with food, dance, arts and crafts, children’s activities and more. It will be in Cottonwood Regional Park, 4300 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.