The UN Refugee Agency says people who flee persecution are forced to leave behind their most precious relationships and belongings. But, the UNHCR says the one thing all refugees carry with them is the hope that they can return home one day. The UNHCR has chosen the theme of hope to mark this year's World Refugee Day.
World Refugee Day is a day of celebration for millions of refugees who have had their hopes fulfilled. The UN refugee agency reports over the past four years, an estimated six million refugees have gone home. This brings the number of refugees worldwide to 8.4 million, its lowest level in 26 years.
But, along with the good news, comes the bad. As more refugees are returning home, the UNHCR reports increasing numbers of people are becoming refugees within their own countries. It says civil wars have caused up to 25 million people to become internally displaced (IDP).
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Wendy Chamberlain, says IDP's are not entitled to the same protection and care as refugees, who are people that cross international borders. She says these people fall in between the cracks of international attention and assistance.
"They are in places that are very troubled. Very difficult to access. Security is bad," said Chamberlain. "Places like Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Colombia, Nepal, Liberia-places that are not in the news every single day, but where people are displaced, are not able to go home and we need to be able to help them, help them have hope that they will go home.
Chamberlain tells VOA it is one thing to help refugees return home. It is quite another to keep them home. She says more often than not, refugees return to villages that have been burnt to the ground. She says they return to places that have no jobs, no schools for their children, no clean water and sanitation.
The deputy commissioner says returning refugees need international assistance to help them rebuild their lives once the conflict is over.
"It is not simply a matter of sending people home. It is a matter of finding durable solutions-putting into place those elements that are going to enable the family to stay there, to stay at home and rebuild their lives," Chamberlain said. "And, if we do not, one of two things happen. Either they decide not to return home, or they return home and worse, cannot make it and flee again. And, that is a double tragedy that we wish to avoid.
The UN Development Program finds half of all countries emerging from conflict slip back into violence within five years. The UN refugee agency says this grim fact underscores the need for the international community to remain engaged in helping nations emerging from war.