Celebrating World Refugee Day (June 20)


world-refugee-day-20th-june-2013The world sheds a tear for its displaced millions, but everybody needs to help much more efficiently, in order to move people to more secure, more healthy and less threatening positions, whether within their own country or in your country! World Refugee Day image; Credit: © Shutterstock

World Refugee Day (June 20) focuses attention on the millions of refugees around the globe who need humanitarian assistance as they wait and hope to return home. WFP food assistance – be it food vouchers or traditional food rations — is a key part of the humanitarian support system for these families.

World Refugee Day is held every year on 20th June, there are more displaced and forcibly-moved people and their families who need care in a country that is not their own. Internally displaced people also figure in this refugee problem, especially in the case of war.

While previous years have concentrated on protection, the home and families that are torn apart, this year features again the fleeing family. With the addition of a personal fundraising site, this theme involves taking a minute to support such families. Security and safety in your own culture with confidence in other nations and people acting responsibly seems a common UN theme. With refugees, it is pre-eminent.

People choose to leave their homes, or are forced out by some disaster to choose exile rather than death and injury. With several recent genocides, we should all be familiar with these situations so there is little excuse for ignoring the troubles of other peoples. To be honest, 43.3 million in 2010 was quite a peak (since the 1990s). 10.4 million found their way to the jurisdiction areas of the UN itself, while Palestinians numbering 4.7 million are still with the UN mandated UNRWA.


The “family of nations” that support this international set of actions is legion of course, with some supporting more than others. Other international organisations such as the Red Crescent and Red Cross and some national entities such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders are all coordinated by the IASC (the Inter-Agency Standing Committee) with UNHCR the lead agency for refugees. The camps it runs have many other agencies providing material, medical and spiritual help. Food, shelter and hospital facilities are possibly the more important. With a 5-year stay quite unacceptable as a regular period for people to remain there, more movement out from the camps is highly desirable.

Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner of the UNHCR has stated, “The problem of protracted refugee situations has reached enormous proportions – more than 30 [such] situations are to be found throughout the world, the vast majority of them in African and Asian countries which are struggling to meet the needs of their own citizens.

ROME – WFP last year provided food assistance to almost 10 million people who had been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in another country or in another part of their own country. Many of these people were women, who for long periods had to ensure their children had food, safety and shelter.

Um Raed
Syrian refugee in Jordan

Um Raed was part of a wave of refugees which left battle-torn Syria towards the end of 2012. She and her family faced the winter in Zaatari camp in Jordan, where life was hard but WFP rations kept them going through the cold months.

Colombian refugee in Ecuador

Carmen-flyes-againCarmen and her family fled Colombia nine months ago to escape violence. Now living in a frontier town in Ecuador, they try to make a living by selling coconut juice on the street. WFP food vouchers are relieving some of the strain.

Ecuador hosts the largest number of refugees in the western hemisphere. They are mostly Colombians, like Carmen and her family, who are struggling to make even enough money to survive. WFP works with other UN agencies and local governments to assist them.

QUITO — Carmen, her husband and their three children fled their home in Colombia nine months ago to escape the violence instigated by various armed groups in their country.

The family lives in a poor neighbourhood of a frontier town in Northern Ecuador, where they rent a room and a small kitchen area in a house. In her hometown in Colombia, Carmen had a small sewing shop and her husband owned a bus. But they left all that behind and now the family’s income depends on their ability to sell coconut juice on the streets of their new city.

Each day, Carmen’s husband buys coconuts and prepares the juice with the help of his eldest son. The boy shows proudly the manual shredder they use for reducing coconut meat to pulp. They usually prepare two buckets of coconut juice a day. One cup of juice sells for US$0.25.

Food vouchers

With such limited income, life is hard. And some days are even harder. Carmen says that when it rains they often struggle to sell any coconut juice at all. Today her youngest daughter has a fever. Her husband, meanwhile, has an injured arm that needs to be attended to every day.

“The rations that we get every month from WFP mean that we can breathe a bit,” Carmen says, explaining how the food voucher she gets from WFP enables her to buy fruit, vegetables and fresh meat at the local store.

“With this little card, my family can have a fairly healthy diet.”

Today she is preparing a large pot of rice and a rich bean soup which the children look at with interest. When she has a spare moment, she goes out onto the small patio to check on a small bird that she brought home a few days earlier. The bird flew into the side of a bus and fell to the ground near where Carmen was selling juice with her husband. Nursing it back to life is now a family project.

Large refugee community

Ecuador-refugees-WFP-GabrieCarmen and her family are part of a large refugee community in Ecuador, which hosts the largest number of refugees in the western hemisphere. Approximately a thousand asylum seekers cross the border each month, fleeing violence in Colombia.

UN Women and the UN refugee agency work alongside WFP to assist the refugees. With the support of local governments, WFP provides food assistance both to the refugees and to vulnerable Ecuadorian families in the host communities. Food vouchers have proven to be the most effective way of ensuring the refugees and their hosts get better access to the food and nutrition they need.

As well as keeping hunger at bay, the programme reduces tensions and fosters better integration. It is funded by public and private donors including USAID, Canada, the European Union, Brazil and KFC-Yum.

Umjima Yacob

umjimaSudanese refugee in South Sudan

Umjima and her children abandoned their village last year when bombs started falling. They are now living in a camp in South Sudan where they get WFP food rations. Her smallest children also received special nutritional products to ward off malnutrition. See photos



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