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The 50 million people the world forgot

June 19, 2009 17:19 IST

Image: Refugees, who fled the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, at the Djabal camp in eastern Chad
Photographs: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

Today is World Refugee Day. The day is a tribute to the courage and dignity of refugees world wide. This year's World Refugee Day theme is "Real People, Real Needs". Despite best efforts, the needs of refugees worldwide are far from being met.

In total, some 50 million people around the world may be described as victims of forced displacement.

The 50 million people the world forgot

Image: Internally displaced children stand in line for their ration of food at the UNHCR Yar Hussain camp
Photographs: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

The United Nations' Millennium Report says, "Wars since the 1990s have been mainly internal. They have been brutal, claiming more than 5 million lives. They have violated, not so much borders, as people. Humanitarian conventions have been routinely flouted, civilians and aid workers have become strategic targets, and children have been forced to become killers."

"Real People, Real Needs" - refugees are individuals with real needs, just like us. The millions of uprooted people around the world, a shortage or lack of the essentials of life - clean water, food, sanitation, shelter, health care and protection from violence and abuse - means that every day can be a struggle just to survive.

The 50 million people the world forgot

Image: Liberian refugees gather around a water well in a refugee camp in Tobonda, near Kenema in Sierra Leone
Photographs: Reuters

This year, with the world economic crisis threatening to slash aid budgets and amid enormous global uncertainty, we need to ensure refugees are not forgotten. That's why the theme for this year's World Refugee Day on June 20 is "Real People, Real Needs."

The Millenium Report says that nearly two-thirds of the world's refugees are in the Middle East and Africa. Although refugee flows are widespread, a handful of countries are the primary source. Half of all refugees come from three sources: Palestinians, as well as from Afghanistan and Iraq. Completing the list of the ten leading sources of refugees are Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Angola, Croatia, and Eritrea.

The 50 million people the world forgot

Image: Tamil children in a refugee camp play with a bicycle rim in front of a Sri Lankan battle tank
Photographs: Reuters

A comprehensive assessment of the needs of refugees and other people cared for by the UN refugee agency revealed that 30 percent were unmet -- a third of them in basic and essential services.

Improvements in nutrition and water supplies, access to primary health care, strengthened child protection programmes, better protection for women from sexual violence and abuse, and improvements in living conditions and sanitation facilities are just some of the needs that are not being met worldwide.

The 50 million people the world forgot

Image: A malnourished child is being weighed at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre in Somalia
Photographs: Boris Heger/Reuters

This World Refugee Day will remember the millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people who are struggling with their day-to-day lives.

One thing connects them all: basic needs that must be met so they have a chance to rebuild their lives.