Happy Father’s Day to my beloved papa bear, Benson Sr. I normally buy my father a bottle of single malt whisky to celebrate but decided to do something different this year as 20 June 2021 is also the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) World Refugee Day. I made a $200 donation to UNHCR’s Donate to help refugee students attend university campaign, which will be enough to cover the cost of textbooks and course materials for one student for an entire year.
The pandemic has heightened my desire to do more for those who are less fortunate and refugees have been top of mind lately. The ongoing Tigray War in Ethiopia has displaced nearly 2m people and has put more than 350k at high risk of starving. The crisis in Ethiopia is just one of the global conflicts that increased the number of displaced people around the world from 79.5m in 2019 to 82.4m in 2020, with 50% of the affected people internally displaced. The UNHCR Global Trends 2020 report revealed that there are 26.4m refugees around the world with key contributors from Africa being South Sudan (2.2m), Democratic Republic of Congo (0.8m), Somalia (0.8m), Sudan (0.8m), Central African Republic (0.6m) and Eritrea (0.5m). Uganda remains the largest host country in Africa with 1.4m refugees.
The Tigray crisis comes at a time when funding for refugees is being cut and support for some of the most vulnerable people in society is fading. In March 2021, UNHCR issued an urgent appeal for US$266 million to end food ration cuts for over 3 million refugees in Eastern Africa with 40% cuts of daily food rations in Uganda and Kenya. In April 2021, Kenya announced that it would shut down two camps that host 430k refugees, most of whom are from Somalia, by June 2022.
On this World Refugee Day, ONGOLO has five suggestions for how to celebrate this special day:
#1 Educate ourselves about the plight of refugees
In August 2019, the Canadian Associated Gospel Churches (AGC) published a firsthand account of life in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which hosts nearly 200k people. Refugees live in challenging environments and struggle to meet their basic needs. They live in small temporary structures made of basic materials with iron roofing sheets to provide shelter from the rain and dust storms. They rely on meagre food handouts of sorghum, yellow peas and oil which some refugees supplement by growing vegetables. Refugees are only allowed to draw water every three days and sometimes have to compete for water with the host communities, who can be hostile. Security is a problem and some live in constant fear of being killed. Refugees who are qualified and experienced in their field are not allowed to work formally and earn very little ($29-48 per month) when they do work informally. Refugees also have limited movement outside the camps.
Other accounts of life as refugees has been captured in literature. One of the books recommended by UNHCR is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006) by Dave Eggers. It tells the story of a six-year-old Sudanese Lost Boy (Deng) who spent a decade living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before moving to the United States where he was granted asylum. His remarkable story became a best seller and inspired him and the author to start a foundation called the VAD Foundation which provides secondary education in Deng’s village in South Sudan. Deng completely transformed his life and later served as an education minister in South Sudan and is also an entrepreneur. A truly inspiring story of what people can achieve when they overcome the odds.
#2 Learn about the diverse cuisine of refugees
To celebrate World Refugee Day, UNHCR has offered the free download of Tastes from Home: recipes from the Refugee Community. The book collates recipes from refugees who now call Canada home and includes well-known recipes from Africa such as: Fumbwa, the Congolese spinach stew; injera bread from the Horn of Africa, which is served with stews such as Zigni (chicken stew); and, grilled swordfish from Somalia. It is also interesting to note that spaghetti is a popular dish in Somalia after they were colonised by Italy from 1889 – 1960. Download your copy today and enjoy!
#3 Support the Refugee Olympics and Paralympics team in Tokyo this July
The Refugee Olympic Team was created in October 2015. The first squad, consisting of ten athletes from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, participated at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The Tokyo 2020 squad consists of 25 athletes competing in individual sports such as air rifle shooting, athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, swimming, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling. There will be an additional team of four who will take part in the first ever Olympic Judo Mixed Team event.
Some of the refugees representing Africa include:
- Angelina Nadai Lohalith: the 28-year-old is originally from South Sudan and now lives in Kenya. She will compete in the 1,500m race and previously competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio
- Cyrille Fagat Tchatchet II: the 25-year-old is originally from Cameroon and now lives in the UK. He will compete in weightlifting and previously won the British, English and BUCs weightlifting championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019
- Popole Misenga: the 29-year-old is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and now lives in Brazil. He will compete in judo. He won a bronze medal at the African under-20 Judo Championships in 2010 before fleeing the DRC. He also participated at the 2016 Olympics in Rio
- Paulo Amotun Lokoro: the 29-year-old is originally from South Sudan and now lives in Kenya. He will compete in the 1,500m race and previously participated at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and at the World Championships in Doha in 2019
- Rose Nathike Lokonyen: the 26-year-old is originally from South Sudan and now lives in Kenya. She will compete in the 800m race. She took part in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the World Championships in London (2017) and Doha (2019)
#4 Donate to protect refugees from COVID-19
While many of us can turn to our home or host governments to keep us safe and ensure that we have access to medicines and vaccines, it is the UNHCR that is ensuring that refugees are not left behind. They are providing medical aid and hygiene items, increasing the number of hand-washing stations in camps and ensuring that refugees are kept well-informed. UNHCR needs your support. Please donate towards the health campaign here:
The world can’t overcome COVID-19 if it overlooks refugees, because no one is safe until everyone is safe. We need to ensure that people forced to flee have access to vaccines, care, medicine and psychological support, like everyone else.UNHCR’s ‘Together we can heal‘ campaign
#5 Donate to create a refugee scholarship fund
The UNHCR Refugee Sponsorship Programme provides full funding (tuition, accommodation and living expenses) that enables talented refugees to obtain university degrees and other higher education qualifications. The campaign aims to raise $23m by 2023 which will support 1,800 refugees to study and transform their lives and that of their communities. Donations start from as low at $20 which would cover university tuition fees for one week to as high as $3,200 which would fund a scholar for a whole year. The campaign has raised $4m from 31 donators and needs your support. Please donate here.
We all benefit when everyone has access to education. We are calling for the creation of scholarships and education opportunities for displaced youth. We also call for greater access to digital education for refugee students.UNHCR’s ‘Together we can learn’ campaign
To all the refugees who are waking up today, I send you my best wishes for a brighter tomorrow. God bless!
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