Opinion: The Private Sector Drives Response to Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Last year, as Europe faced a growing number of boat arrivals, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned the European Union that the time for talk was over.
“We are facing a moment of truth,” he said. “Richer nations must acknowledge refugees for the victims they are, fleeing from wars they are unable to prevent or stop. Wealthier countries must decide to shoulder their fair share at home and abroad, or hide behind walls as the chaos spreads across the world.”
Prophetic words indeed, but it took the image of a drowned child to finally galvanise some action.
While the EU continued to argue about what a combined response to the crisis might entail, the heart wrenching photograph of three-year- old Aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach prompted a global outpouring of community compassion and generosity and put the onus on governments and big business to follow suit.
In Germany and Austria, local people greeted refugee families with gifts of food, blankets and children’s toys. In Australia too, the initial response came primarily from the private sector – from individuals like James Wright, a Melbourne father of two, who used social media to encourage his fellow Melbournians to donate their unused fares during the city’s train strike and raised over $41,000 for UNHCR’s relief operations for Syrian refugees. Within days, the Australian government had announced a $20 million contribution towards UNHCR operations for Syria and an increased intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees.
These are the reasons we established Australia for UNHCR fifteen years ago.
UNHCR is the world’s leading agency for refugees. Founded by the United Nations in the wake of World War II, it has a global mandate to assist and protect people fleeing from conflict and work with governments to find durable solutions for them.
Through Australia for UNHCR, Australians are able to support the agency’s emergency and humanitarian programs. Funds raised help refugees in situations of crisis, assisting the work of UNHCR’s teams on the ground and providing emergency relief and shelter items.
In recent weeks, as those desperate scenes from Europe have been beamed around the world, dozens of individual Australians have approached me to ask how they could help. From my experience with our many thousands of donors, Australians do care about refugees and feel a moral responsibility, as citizens of the world, to provide a lifeline for these frightened people fleeing the ravages of war.
The global refugee crisis has become the biggest humanitarian issue of our times and demands a concerted response from us all.
Leading the way in Australia as high profile supporters of UNHCR are firms like Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Australia Post, Colonial First State Global Asset Management, PwC and Perpetual. Other Australian corporates looking for ways to act and support the calls of their employees should find a way to help UNHCR do its essential life-saving work, and help the women and children cast adrift from war-torn nations like Syria.
John W.H. Denton AO is Chief Executive Officer of Corrs Chambers Westgarth Lawyers and the founding Chair of Australia for UNHCR.