June 20th –The World Refugee Day
June 20th marks the World Refugee Day.
Wars, natural disasters and violence have forced millions of people around the world to flee their homes. Whether it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir or the recent Afghan refugee crisis, societies have been torn into a million pieces; civilians have suffered at the cost of state politics. The resulting outpour of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) warrants international support and a global human spirit. Let us join hands to rebuild their lives, their identities, their future.
This year round along with celebrations of the past, we need to find solutions for the present World Refugee Crisis in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Myanmar and the Palestinian Territories to name a few. Instead of quoting the number of refugees displaced within these territories, I’ll try and put faces to these figures. This article is dedicated to the real people behind the refugee crisis.
The World Refugee Day was founded in the year 2000, when the United Nations General Assembly established the day to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees:
On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/76 decided that, from 2001, 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. In this resolution, the General Assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The UN noted that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) had agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on 20 June (Wikipedia)
Following is a glimpse of the Refugee Stories Project; refugee stories compiled through interviews conducted by refugee organizations across Europe:
“Being an asylum seeker effects your whole life, your routine, it effects everything…because sometimes you want to do nothing, drop out of everything, you want to leave your courses or English courses or whatever, you want to go away, but to where?”
Alice left Kyrgystan in 2003. She worked there as a professional musician, until one day she was arrested for playing at opposition rallies, tortured, and forbidden from playing in her orchestra. She was forced to flee, and came to the United Kingdom.
Maria has been a refugee in Greece ever since she fled Iran under the rule of Khomeini, when a colleague of her husband was imprisoned and killed for his political beliefs. Now, after twenty years in the country, Maria still has to renew her refugee status annually and struggles to belong in Greece.
“It was torture, it reminded me of prison in Iraq.”
This is how Kasim describes the four years and four months he lived in Sweden while waiting to be returned to Italy under the Dublin Convention. Kasim is 39 years old and fled political persecution in Iraq in 2001. He sought asylum in Sweden but after four years he was sent back to Italy, where he had first arrived, under the EU’s Dublin Regulation.
Hadish fled Eritrea after being imprisoned for campaigning for a democratic constitution. He crossed the Mediterranean sea when he failed to find protection in neighboring African countries and was detained on arrival in Malta.
A couple of other interesting material on the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan refugee crisis:
Dr Mohammad Ayaz and his huge extended family were respectable professionals back in Swat but they were forced to flee with hundreds of thousands of others when the Pakistan army operation began earlier this month against the Taliban who had taken over the area. The 93 family members are packed into five rooms, spread between two modest houses that belong to cousins in Malakand Top, a village just south of Swat. They said that have received no aid. Those living outside of camps have been largely ignored by aid agencies, the government and the media. But the plight of Dr Ayaz, whose family used to live in seven houses within a single compound in Saidu Sharif, Swat, is not unusual. Huge families are now dependent on the charity of friends and family, who are often poor themselves.
The video below contains some disturbing material, but is definitely worth sharing:
Rethink Afghanistan (Part 4): Civilian Casualties
Sharbat Gula’s face was captured by Steve McCurry for the National Geographic magazine in 1984. Soon after she appeared on the magazine’s cover in 1985, she was an icon; a mysterious, unknown face. Many tried finding her but without any luck. However, in January 2002, Sharbat Gula was reunited with the National Geographic, when a team returned to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp, where she was originally found and photographed. Last media check was in the year 2002, when Sharbat was found to be married and living with her husband and three daughters in a remote area in Afghanistan.
“This is the face that so captivated not only National Geographic readers but also anyone who saw her image around the world,” said Boyd Matson, host of the National Geographic television show EXPLORER, who was with the group that met with Gula. “The second I saw the color of her brother’s eyes, I knew we had the right family,” said Matson.
As per Steve McCurry; the photographer who captured Sharbat Gula on camera:
Gula’s eyes have retained all their fire and intensity, he says. She has aged, “but I think she’s still quite beautiful despite all the hardship that people have to endure there.” (NPR, March 13, 2002)
Whether Sharbat Gula is still alive is yet again a mystery, but what remains is her haunting gaze; a before (1984) and an after (2002). Her suffering visualized through her deteriorating youth with her eyes speaking volumes of the terror and violence she has seen and lived.