World Refugee Day today (20 June) is a key date in the Australian for UNHCR calendar, not least because of the fact that many of our staff here in Australia are themselves former refugees.
Nearly half of our staff are former refugees coming from former conflict zones like Cambodia and Sierre Leone and more recent crises such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Many continue to have family and friends remaining behind in refugee camps.
For our staff and volunteers, working with Australia for UNHCR is a way to give back to UNHCR and support people in need.
And this support is needed more than ever. According to a report released this week by UNHCR, 2011 was a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.
|Somali refugees wait to receive UNHCR aid supplies at the|
Kabasa transit centre, Somalia. UNHCR/S.Modola/2011
UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends report released this week details the extent of forced displacement from a number of recent humanitarian crises in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan and elsewhere.
In 2011, 4.3 million people were newly displaced, with 800,000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees. In total UNHCR estimates that there are now currently 42.5 million displaced across the world.
In stark reminder that conflict and instability is the greatest driver of refugee numbers, Afghanistan remains the biggest producer of refugees (2.7million) followed by Iraq (1.4 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (500,000), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (491,000).
An equally important fact in the report was that the largest number of refugees are hosted by some of the poorest countries in the world, topped by Pakistan (1.7 million), the Islamic Republic of Iran (886,500), and the Syrian Arab Republic (775,400.)
Dealing with this global situation is a huge challenge and Australians have responded to UNHCR’s calls for help by donating many millions of dollars towards life saving relief and assistance. This means that Australia for UNHCR is the leading private sector donor to UNHCR on a per capita basis.
The challenge however, is for this generosity to be reflected in support for refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian community, many of whom have overcome tremendous dangers to make their way to relative safety.
A recent UNHCR survey of public attitudes toward refugees and asylum-seekers found that 66 per cent of Australians surveyed are very sympathetic or sympathetic toward refugees who come to Australia.
One such person who made her way to Australia is former refugee Carina Hoang who was one of more than a million people who sought to escape South Vietnam after the communist victory.
In 1976, after several attempts of escape from communist rule, 16 year old Carina and her two younger siblings escaped war-torn Vietnam on a wooden boat with 373 strangers, including 75 children and spent several months in a refugee camp before being resettled.
Last year Carina published an award winning book, Boat People, featuring the stories some of those who survived the perilous sea journey, spent time in refugee camps and made final journeys to new adopted homelands.
|Carina Hoang at the 2012 World Refugee Day Breakfast|
Carina was a guest speaker at Australia for UNHCR’s 2012l Word Refugee Day Breakfast held this morning.
Over 300 UNHCR supporters attending the breakfast heard Carina speak first hand about her harrowing boat journey, only to arrive on an uninhabited island with no food or water before eventually being rescued by UNHCR and given refuge.
Like many other refugees, Carina has gone on to make a huge contribution to the community.
I’m very pleased to announce Carina’s appointment today as a Special Representative for Australia for UNHCR. She has a moving story to share and is a powerful advocate for refugees.
Stories like Carina’s help challenges public debate and inform public opinion about refugees and asylum-seekers. We’re very proud to have her as a spokesperson.
You can read more about Carina’s journey and accounts from other Vietnamese refugees at www.carinahoang.com.au
You can also support UNHCR to continue assisting refugees across the globe by calling 1300 361 288 or visiting www.unrefugees.org.au to make a donation.