World Refugee Day, marked on June 20, is a time to honor those who flee violence and persecution and those who help them on their journey.
It’s almost unfathomable that nearly 60 million men, women and children are now displaced inside and outside of their countries. That is the largest number the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has ever counted and 8 million more than the record set just one year ago. We’ve seen haunting images of Syrian families fleeing indiscriminate barrel bombings and young children rescued at sea after days without food. Escaping from bullets, bombs, or machetes is often just the beginning of the ordeal. Refugees remain in exile for an average of 17 years. Some are born and grow up in camps and never get to leave them.
I’ll never forget meeting with refugee leaders on my recent trip to Kenya, where 350,000 mainly Somali refugees live in a remote, dusty camp complex called Dadaab. By video link to Nairobi, I spoke to a group of Dadaab’s best students. They told me how they dream of attending university and pursuing careers in medicine, politics, and human rights. But they also shared their fears that they would end up trapped and jobless, and that all their striving would be in vain. We cannot let that happen.
For those scattered by violence and oppression, the United States is and will remain their most fervent defender. I am proud that U.S. humanitarian assistance exceeded $6 billion last year. The United States is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid, and resettles more refugees than any other nation. The resilience, determination, and achievements of the millions resettled here in the United States prove the value and importance of our work. People who have been uprooted deserve more than food, shelter, and medical care. They deserve dignity and respect and the opportunity to build a better future.
We have a duty to the millions stranded away from home, not just to preserve life, but to safeguard hope.