By Mr. Leonard Zulu
“For 20 years we have taken time on 20 June to reflect on the courage and resilience of the millions of people around the world forced to flee their homes because of violence or persecution, and the generosity of the communities that have welcomed them.
In the last two decades, the numbers have become overwhelming. Today, 79.5 million people have fled their homes in search of safety. Some 29.6 million of them are refugees, and 4.2 million are awaiting the outcome of asylum requests. Year on year, fewer and fewer can return home. This year is unlike any other. We mark World Refugee Day against a backdrop of a global pandemic that has turned all of our lives upside down. This year, I want to take this opportunity to call for solidarity amongst all people, united to defeat COVID-19. This year, I want to highlight the importance of inclusiveness for every single person within vulnerable communities.
This is a time of dramatic social change, but change can also be positive; it can bring new hope. Through our work, we in UNHCR have the opportunity to speak regularly with the 266,700 refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa, and with our partners who work tirelessly to support refugee-hosting communities across the country. Throughout this time, we have seen great acts of human kindness. Refugees and members of the host communities helping each other with food parcels. It is clear that COVID-19 has not pushed us apart. It has brought us together.
Increasingly, I see an indomitable spirit of togetherness rising out of the depths of the pandemic. People are coming together to help one another through these difficult times. That includes refugees who have seized the opportunity to give back to the communities that have welcomed them, and ordinary South African citizens giving of what they have to support neighbours who are less fortunate than themselves.
Our strength as a human community lies in our togetherness. South Africa has been a generous host to refugees and asylum seekers for many decades, granting them the right to work and access to public services on par with nationals. UNHCR, too, is here to support. We are committed to stay and deliver assistance to people in refugee-hosting communities who are going hungry, or facing evictions because they can’t pay the rent. Since the start of the pandemic, we have reached over 58,700 people, including refugees, asylum-seekers and their hosts. Almost 39,700 of them received emergency assistance to keep going, and stay safe.
On this World Refugee Day, I appeal to everyone to help continue this movement of solidarity; to make this spirit of togetherness grow. Every one of us can make a difference when it comes to promoting inclusion, respect, and dignity for all. Every action counts.”
UNHCR’s Representation in South Africa is active in nine countries in southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, plus the Indian Ocean Islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. There are 275,800 refugees and asylum seekers in the nine countries.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).