In the face of 60 million: we must engage.

Author:Wek, Alek
Position::Refugees
 
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Sixty million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution and terrible human rights violations. This number is astonishing, isn't it? As members of a global society with access to endless streams of media, it is easy to hear numbers and figures and to get caught up in the politics of it all. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that each number represents a living, breathing, feeling human soul. That's just it, though. We are talking about people. Innocent people. Just like you. Just like me. I was once one of these numbers, one of the nameless, faceless statistics that was forced to flee. Can you imagine what that's like, what it's like to be forced to flee your home, to have your village decimated, to wholly lose life as you know it? Please do try.

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We have a global displacement crisis on our hands, and as a global community we must address it. We must engage. We must empathize. We must figure out what we can do as individuals, as families, as neighbourhoods, as communities, as States, as nations. As a Goodwill Ambassador for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a former refugee, I am committed to building awareness and to giving a voice to the millions who are forcibly displaced around the world. I have spent two decades advocating for the rights of refugees. In every instance, I find there is nothing more powerful and educational than the telling of a single human story. And today I would like to tell you mine.

I loved my childhood. I grew up in the southern region of the Sudan in a small town called Wau. Things were simple and peaceful. Life was very different compared to my current life in New York. I lived with my mother and father and my eight brothers and sisters. We had no electricity or running water. We had to walk to a pump to get our drinking water. The loo was a hole in the ground. We may have been poor by some people's standards, but we certainly didn't feel poor. We were happy, and life was joyful. We were rich in family and country and culture. We had a home. We shared meals together. We went to school. We were free to play and roam the countryside with our friends. To give you a sense of the safety and security we enjoyed, the one rule set by my mother was not to eat mangos from the mango trees on our way home from school, as she feared we would ruin our appetite for supper. For what it is worth...

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