World Refugee Day 2020

World Refugee Day normally finds the Refugee 613 team dashing from event to event, panel discussion to potluck to film screening, as we visit our friends and allies in the communities and organizations we serve, and do our best to make the refugee journey more real to Canadians.

This year is not normal. We are, like so many, working to stay safe in a pandemic, and mourning the lives and dreams cut short by anti-Black racism both here and abroad. And we are mostly doing it from home, under lockdown, facing an uncertain future. 

It is against this backdrop that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released its annual Global Trends report, and the numbers are staggering. There are now 79.5 million displaced people around the world. That’s 1% of humanity. More than 29 million of them are refugees and others forced by conflict or persecution to leave their home country. Many are now particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and urgently need our support

At the same time, the opportunities for refugees to resettle in new countries has dropped dramatically. UNHCR reports that in the 1990s, on average 1.5 million refugees were able to return home each year. Over the past decade that number has fallen to just 385,000. 

We take those numbers as a personal challenge to do more as a country to keep our doors open to refugees, and to work harder to create welcoming places where new arrivals can thrive and build our community with us. We also look for moments of hope, and there are several in our little corner of the world. 

We’ve watched in admiration as asylum seekers risk their health to work on the frontlines of the pandemic, keeping Canadians safe with no guarantee the government will let them stay. Former refugees are also stepping up, assisting with PPE production and encouraging acts of kindness in a difficult time.  We’ve also seen community come together to ensure shelters like Carty House and others are able to keep their doors open for those who need it.

Despite the very real frustration and human cost of the suspension of refugee resettlement during the pandemic, refugee sponsors across Canada and abroad are organizing to come back stronger once the borders reopen. If you want to take part in the most rewarding volunteer work you’ve ever done, drop us a line info@refugee613.ca and we’ll help you get started.

With the support of community partners, Refugee 613 has started producing multilingual, culturally-relevant videos to help newcomers navigate life during COVID-19. It’s part of our effort to ensure everyone gets the information they need, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. Soon, we’ll be taking this joint effort further, with the launch of a new online space for newcomers and allies to collaborate, share COVID-19 resources, and learn from each other.

On this World Refugee Day, life is anything but normal. But we are still here, still working together, and still hopeful for tomorrow.