The world’s refugees are all too often shunned, discriminated against or forgotten. As the United Nations marks World Refugee Day on Saturday, Hollywood actor and director Angelina Jolie is lending her support by visiting a refugee camp in Turkey.
It won’t be the first such visit for Jolie, who’s a special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR. She’s previously visited refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq to see the plight of families forced from their homes by Syria’s long conflict and the advance of ISIS.
She will be accompanied Saturday by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In a statement, Guterres warned that “a spreading global violence has come to threaten the very foundations of our international system” and urged the world not to turn its back on those who most need its help.
“More people fled last year than at any other time in our records. Around the world, almost 60 million have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children,” he said.
Their numbers are growing every day, on every continent, he said. And they rely on the world for their survival.
“They will remember what we do,” he said. “Yet, even as this tragedy unfolds, some of the countries most able to help are shutting their gates to people seeking asylum. Borders are closing, pushbacks are increasing, and hostility is rising. Avenues for legitimate escape are fading away.”
At the same time, he said, humanitarian organizations like the UNHCR run on shoestring budgets, unable to meet the spiraling needs of such massive numbers of people.
Fleeing conflicts in Middle East, Africa
A report from the UNHCR on Thursday gave the same stark warning.
On average, 42,500 people were displaced every day in 2014, it said. The conflict in Syria has been the biggest single driver of displacement, according to the refugee agency’s Global Trendsreport — but far from the only one.
Guterres: Richer countries must shoulder burden
In his statement Saturday, Guterres called on the world’s richer nations to “shoulder collectively the burden of helping the victims of war” or risk letting less wealthy nations — which take in 86% of the world’s refugees — become overwhelmed and unstable.
“Since the beginnings of civilization, we have treated refugees as deserving of our protection. Whatever our differences, we have recognized a fundamental human obligation to shelter those fleeing from war and persecution,” he said.
“Yet today, some of the wealthiest among us are challenging this ancient principle, casting refugees as gate crashers, job seekers or terrorists. This is a dangerous course of action, short-sighted, morally wrong, and — in some cases — in breach of international obligations.”
World figures echoed his call.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement that his country must remember its history of helping those in need.
“World Refugee Day is a solemn occasion for the United States to join our partners in the international community in recognizing the dignity, value, and potential of every one of these lives,” he said.
“It is a time to recall this nation’s proud tradition of providing support to those who are most vulnerable, and a moment to challenge ourselves to continue being as generous and resourceful as we can in meeting their needs.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also recalled how her own family had been given shelter, decades ago.
Meanwhile, the European Commission urged leaders in Europe “to follow through on their commitment to greater solidarity and shared responsibility in addressing refugee crises. These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act.”