19 June 2014

Africa: World Refugee Day Sheds Light On the World's 38.7 Million Displaced

Last July, a 6-year-old Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refugee named Faustin was abandoned in front of a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. Faustin suffered from extensive scarring, suggesting years of abuse, and a gangrene-infected leg that had to be immediately amputated, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).

Faustin's uncle, who brought the young boy to Malawi after his parents were killed in the DRC in 2011, deserted him at the local hospital before fleeing to Mozambique with his wife. Faustin's guardians beat him, deprived him of schooling and food, and forced him to work long hours. When Faustin tried to escape his guardians' home, the young boy was captured by neighbors and returned to his uncle, who punished Faustin by tying him up with metal wire and beating him into submission.

Faustin's leg was amputated at Nkhoma hospital, where UNHCR officials found him. Disoriented and confused, Faustin asked the aid workers who would take him home and become his new mother.

Faustin, one of over 3.6 million displaced DRC refugees, is now 7-years-old and living with a foster family in the United States. On June 20, this year's World Refugee Day, the UNHCR hopes to highlight stories of refugee survival and perseverance like Faustin's.

"In 2014, we're focusing on the devastating impact of war on families," Leigh Foster, Chief of Events and Campaigns at UNHCR, told MediaGlobal News. "We're trying to keep the focus on the human consequences of conflict. People forget that these are families - mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters - like yours and mine. "

To bring refugees' stories to life, Foster and her colleagues are created a platform for displaced persons to tell their stories firsthand - and, as the agency emphasizes, today's refugees need a voice now more than ever before.

The first half of 2013 saw a level of refugee crisis unseen in the previous decade: the number of displaced people exceeded the 5.9 million mark in just six months, with crises in Syria, the Central African Republic, DRC, and Mali alone leaving 1.5 million people displaced.

The total displaced population in June 2013 was 38.7 million people, the highest number of record. With no end in sight to crises in the aforementioned conflict-ridden countries, that number is undoubtedly much higher now, a year after the agency's 2013 Mid-Year Trends report.

"We always try to ask the public to put themselves in the shoes of refugees, and make them think of what they would do if they had to leave everything behind and flee their country to save their families," Foster told MediaGlobal News. "We want to show them how families are trying to cope to survive, and how resilient they have to be to handle it. Our surveys show that when the public understands why refugees are forced to flee, they're more sympathetic to the cause."

World Refugee Day was adopted in December 2000 to draw attention to the plight of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Events are held all over the world to celebrate refugees' strength and raise awareness for the cause.


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