As I put down a message for World Refugee Day, I am receiving distressing telephone calls from the Health Centers in and around Palabek Refugee Settlement, Lamwo district where I work for the last four years that Coronavirus infections are growing almost every hour. The living conditions, particularly the hygiene situation in the refugee settlement, are appalling—it has always been so.
A refugee household often finds it difficult to get a piece of soap. In this background, we are called to celebrate the World Refugee Day.
This international day instituted by the United Nations is celebrated every year on 20th June. Every year the day highlights thoughts such as the rights of refugees, resilience in rebuilding their lives and offering them the protection that they are urgently in need of. Refugees are our guests rather than strangers; they are our brothers and sisters rather than sojourners. Anyone can be forced to become migrants and refugees. Most of them did not choose to be in the condition that they are. They are made refugees due to the war, insecurity, political turmoil, natural calamities, and even situations caused by climate change.
It is unfortunate that a considerable portion of humanity is made into refugees in the world of today. A deeper look into this reality tells us that it is human greed and selfishness of a few that has made fellow human beings to suffer untold misery. People who lived in their own land and earned their own living were deprived of their land and livelihood and forced to take refuge in unknown land and culture. Now even their self-worth and human dignity as persons are at stake.
In this context Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti invites everyone to live in the thought of “We” and “Us”, thus building a human family. In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic he wrote, “Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’” (No. 35). Yes, when we consider everyone as part of our family, no one will be a migrant and a refugee among us.
On 3rd May 2021, Pope Francis presented to the Church his message for the World Refugee Day with the theme: Towards an Ever Wider “We”. It is easy to combine the theme that is also given by the United Nations for the same—Together We Heal, Together Learn, Together We Shine. It is a sure fact that both messages overshadow each other. The word that shouts aloud in both themes is “WE”.
Together we heal, aimed at giving refugees access to primary and secondary health care, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and mental health services.
Together we learn, aimed at transforming the lives of young refugees by offering education and building a better future.
Together we shine, aimed at supporting refugees to discover their creativity so as to discover their potentiality and make best use of their lives.
Healing, Learning and Shining can boost mental health and help refugees gain confidence, forge new friendships, and feel welcome. In this process using sports, games, new methods of learning and other creative activities can develop among the young refugees their inherent talents.
The word—pronoun “WE” stands for togetherness, unity, closeness, inseparability, friendship, and even intimacy. Perhaps, in the world of consumerism, materialism and profit-mindedness, the WE concept is easily forgotten and overlooked. Now the United Nations and world leaders such as Pope Francis are calling us to feel the sense of “WE”. At this moment this feeling alone can save refugees and everyone, especially in this dreadful period of Coronavirus pandemic. The feeling of “WE” can surely help us to stay together (though in physical/social distancing).
At the celebration of World Refugee Day often we hear speeches based on compassion, mercy, sharing and welcoming. Surely it is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.
The day shines a light on the rights, needs and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilize political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive. While it is important to protect and improve the lives of refugees every single day, international days like World Refugee Day help to focus global attention on the plight of those fleeing conflict or persecution. Many activities held on World Refugee Day create opportunities to support refugees.
Amidst maneuvering many politics and policies Uganda has been a haven for refugees. Being a poor and developing country it may not be in a position to offer the best for refugees. Uganda has been welcoming, especially on the part of ordinary citizens. Now it is the responsibility of the international community to keep their commitment to fulfilling their promises of meeting the basic needs of refugees, especially at this time of pandemic when the needs are growing everywhere, even among the wealthier nations. Vaccination should be extended to refugees, too.
Food rations have been reduced and support for livelihood programmes has been brought to the minimum. With the feeling of “WE” let us all put together our hearts and hands in reaching out to the refugees who are at our doorsteps.
May the words of Pope Francis given for this day continue to ring in our ears, “I also make this appeal to journey together towards an ever wider “we” to all men and women, for the sake of renewing the human family, building together a future of justice and peace, and ensuring that no one is left behind. We are called to dream together, fearlessly, as a single human family, as companions on the same journey, as sons and daughters of the same earth that is our common home, sisters and brothers all.”