For the thousands of people forced to flee their homes each year, escaping with their lives and a few belongings is often just the start of a long struggle. Once they have found safety from persecution or war, they still face enormous challenges just trying to obtain things most of us take for granted — schooling, a job, decent housing or healthcare.
Hardship takes many forms, and hard choices must be made. Aid agencies with limited resources are often forced into painful prioritization exercises. Which is more important for thousands of children in a refugee camp, a school or a health clinic? In addition to their efforts to build new lives, many refugees bear psychological and physical scars from past abuses that can endure for years, even in a completely new environment. Families who face persecution in their own country may have to live under the daily threat of being forcibly returned. Even in asylum, a refugee may be perceived as a threat, rather than victim, and face intolerance or hostility.
Today, the global refugee population is at its lowest level since 1980. Over the past few years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has helped millions of people repatriate or start over in a country of asylum. UN agencies are working together to ensure that millions of people displaced within their own country, often in conditions similar to refugees, receive the assistance they need. Here too, hundreds of thousands of people, from the Russian Federation to Liberia, have been helped to go home voluntarily.
Yet as we mark World Refugee Day 2006, more than half those that UNHCR cares for around the world have spent more than five years in exile. Let this Day serve as a reminder of our responsibility to help keep hope alive among those who need it most — the millions of refugees and displaced who are still far from home.