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Why we should embrace refugees as global citizens

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Fikru Abebe Abebe

Today’s commemoration  of the annual June 20 World Refugee Day reminds us of a contemporary world with an epic of humanitarian disasters pushing a considerable global population to become refugees.   With almost 25 years covered in the 21 century, more than 114 million people, many of them already displaced by full-scale domestic assaults, are continuously forced to flee their homes due to conflict, hunger, drought, climate change, and devastating disasters like landslides, earthquakes, and floods worldwide.

Appearing in line with the theme for this year’s universal commemoration “Our home”, Eritrean refugee Yemane Haile, who has lived in Uganda for more than 10 years, wrote an opinion in Daily Monitor of April 29, that the country’s “compassionate approach and welcoming attitude towards those seeking refuge, indeed Uganda stands out as a model and beacon of hope and inclusivity, a home away from home in a world often marred by division and strife.”

Haile further lauded Uganda’s open door policy towards refugees thus providing a sense of relief and hope for a better future. Another refugee, Bashaw Zwedie, from Ethiopia, now settled in the USA, who lived in Uganda for 24 years, says he has no words to express his feelings about Uganda as one of the best places he has been to and is very happy to call it home.

Refugees’ nod to the Ugandan refugee policy is an awakening that all global forces have a role to play in not only ending the refugee crisis but also in making refugees individually feel safe in our host communities. Uganda should also be greatly applauded and recognised globally as a model and sufficiently supported with resources to meet the demand for the increasing number of refugees.

At every interaction with the world’s more than 35 million refugees, we must critically comprehend the idea that a home is not just a building, a landscape, or a structure. It is a place that gives one identity, safety, association, refuge, and a good state of mind. For a person who left his or her country for another, finding a place to call home is more of an imagination and worry than reality.

Exactly 23 years since the inaugural Refugee Day commemoration, let’s use this landmark 2024 edition by recommitting to support and improve the plight of refugees in Uganda and beyond.

May all stakeholders, essentially, global leaders get a permanent comprehension of facts to understand that it is not anyone’s ultimate or deliberate preference to become an asylum seeker, refugee, immigrant, or anything in that union set.

Refugees did not have it as their best option to be referred to as such. These brothers, sisters, children, fathers, and mothers of our century found themselves in vulnerable circumstances that put them at the mercy of total strangers and communities. If we became empathetic towards them, we would give them a fertile chance to live again and have a place they call home- like Haile, Bashaw, and the rest of the refugees. Sometimes we can find a home in an individual, and other times, in a community. Which one will you be?

Besides, it is incumbent on all of us to take stock of the critical nature of the global refugee situation to recognise the urgent need for action.

Together, we can create a future or environment where everyone can reach their full potential in their host communities.

Additionally, I convey the firm belief that we can bring services closer to refugee communities through access to clean water, livelihood projects, and vocational skills training, position them for opportunities, and give refugees hope. We can facilitate empowering refugees and their communities- all combined with supporting them to grow and realise their maximum potential.

Let us stand with refugees and work towards a world where “our home” is defined not by borders or boundaries but by our shared humanity and commitment to justice, equality, peace, and environmental restoration.

Mr Fikru Abebe Abebe, is the CEO of African Initiatives for Relief and Development.