By Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission, The UN Migration Agency, International Organisation for Migration UK
Recently, IOM was working in Lebanon with a group of Syrian refugees who were to be resettled in the UK. While the parents attended a pre-departure orientation session, we asked the Syrian children to draw what they expect for their future in the UK. Almost all children drew a house and a school. “If we have this, everything will be beautiful,” noted ten year old Ryiad. “I also hope to make good friends and wish we could have toys and a garden to play in with my little brother.”
Refugee Week is about celebrating the aspirations and hopes of refugees like Ryiad. It is about remembering that despite the different circumstances or places where we come from, our dreams and hopes for a better future unite us.
Across the world, over 22 million refugees are fleeing from conflict and persecution. Many of these refugees have been stuck in protracted periods of displacement, and are struggling for a chance to start a new beginning. War, conflict, natural disasters, persecution, and intolerance are the principal drivers of these forced movements, and understandably, lead people to make the decision to leave home in search of safety.
Yet not everybody is knocking on Europe’s door. Ten countries host more than half of the world’s refugees, and nine of the top ten refugee hosting countries are in developing regions. Every sixth individual in Lebanon is a refugee. These countries continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of the responsibility for hosting refugees and wealthier countries like the UK can and should do more. In recent weeks, the overwhelming generosity of the British public has been showcased in response to a series of unfolding tragedies. In these dark moments, the British people have poured onto the streets to help those in need, demonstrating remarkable acts of bravery and kindness. The public’s spirit of solidarity in face of suffering is heartening and reminds us of our common humanity.
Reflecting on her future hopes when she moves to the UK, six year old Asmaa from Syria tells us – “I hope to make lots of good friends. It is very important to have good friends in life.” Asmaa, like us, takes solace in her community to overcome times of hardship. She too is hopeful for a brighter future.
As we mark this year’s Refugee Week, we should reflect on the power of community to help us through periods of adversity. Our ability and willingness to empathise with others and to recognise our shared hopes for the future can help bring us closer together. The British public have time and time again demonstrated generosity and solidarity in the face of human suffering; let us continue to extend this spirit to the refugees who are in need of our support so they too can get to know and love the British public for who we really are.