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World Refugee Day: A Collision of World Crises, Tax Havens and THAT Referendum

21/06/2016 12:07 | Updated 21 June 2016

This year I've travelled to some pretty difficult places. My work has taken me to war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa. I have also travelled to the border of Serbia and Macedonia where I met refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Somalia. In particular, I remember meeting children far too familiar with the sound of gunfire.

In CAR hundreds of thousands have been displaced by conflict. In the DRC, thousands are living in camps after many years of violence. Each story is heartbreaking and unique, but one thing keeps coming back: What people need most urgently is peace.

While humanitarian aid is vital, it is clear that tackling the root causes of problems we see today is essential to achieving that oft-elusive peace. It is also clear that attaining peace is an enormous challenge that will take most countries - by themselves - many years to accomplish; and requires concerted efforts by the international community in each given case.

Children born into a grim year

It's projected that in 2016, more than 6 million children are going to die of preventable causes. They will die of diseases for which we have cures for; wars that can be avoided and of poverty-related issues we know about.

We also know that more than 60 million people are now forcibly displaced from their homes. Many live in their countries as internally displaced people. Some flee to neighbouring countries while a tiny minority make their way to North America and Europe to seek safety for themselves and their families.

The contrast is stark when you place a lens over the more stable, developed countries that are home to the richest 100 people in the world who have amassed enough wealth to equal that of an estimated three billion people in the developing world. Some of this wealth - as we have seen during the PanamaPapers saga - is stored in tax havens in ways that do not allow governments to tax it in order to fund initiatives such as healthcare, education and infrastructure that could help create better societies in poorer countries.

Against this bleak backdrop what is needed, I believe, are concerted public efforts in demanding some equating to this imbalance. How else can we explain that even though the world has become richer than ever before, 17, 000 children are dying each day from poverty, conflict and preventable ailments.

Headline news and a vision for society

The biggest public debate in the UK at the moment is around whether we should remain in the European Union or not.

The public debate on the referendum often seeks to ask what we might get if we vote in a particular direction. But it rarely asks how we may be better able to provide for those in need around the world nor how to build a more peaceful world.

In an uncertain world, we seem to be increasingly at risk of forgetting about those less fortunate than ourselves.

History, particularly in Europe, shows clearly the immense dangers of isolationism. There is a danger here that the growing trend of self-centred withdrawal curtails the spirit of a global community so painfully built over many decades.

We do well to stop and think about how our decisions will impact the 60 million people who have had to flee conflict, many as a result of our collective failure to build safe societies and prevent conflicts around the world. The test of our decisions, and of our vision for our societies, is whether we who live in abundance provide enough for those who today have too little and suffer too much.

We need to move from our current temptations of self-interest and isolationism towards a vision of peace that includes those most forgotten around the world. A peace that is not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice and inclusion in society.

On World Refugee Day we should take the time to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in and how we are contributing to that. We should also take the chance to call on our leaders, governments and the international community to provide the leadership we need to create positive change and peace.

Then, perhaps, children fleeing conflict today can be safe in classrooms tomorrow.

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