This World Refugee Day, the protection of vulnerable people who are urgently seeking a place of safety is more important than ever.
The plight of a marooned ship in the Mediterranean captured global media attention last week and brought refugees back into the spotlight. 630 people, including children and pregnant women, were stranded aboard the Aquarius rescue boat for a week, having already spent 20 hours in overcrowded rubber dinghies attempting the perilous sea crossing.
No matter how many times we hear these stories, we must never allow ourselves to become numb to the injustice and human suffering experienced by so many people risking their lives to make dangerous journeys in search of sanctuary.
Let us be clear - everyone deserves to have effective access to essential, lifesaving assistance and to have their basic needs met. They deserve protection irrespective of their reasons for moving, legal status or where they are in their journeys. And in addition, those fleeing conflict and persecution also have a right to be guaranteed safe and effective access to asylum.
As a country and members of a global community, especially in these turbulent political times, we need to be clear about our values and what we want to see for those people who find themselves in these distressing and dangerous circumstances. As long-standing conflicts continue unabated, it is clear that people across the world will continue to be displaced from their homes and we cannot turn a blind eye to people urgently seeking safety.
We are all aware of the large numbers of people across the world today that have been forcibly displaced from their homes – around 68.5 million, the largest number since WWII – this is a problem that this not going away.
It is worth remembering that few of these people make the journey to Europe, even fewer make it here to the UK. The majority of these people are internally displaced within their country of origin, or in neighbouring countries. Some refugee crises garner high-profile headlines like Syria, while others remain largely absent from the public conscious, like Eritrea or DRC.
The Red Cross Red Crescent movement has a proud history of working with refugees around the world. We are there to support people at every point in their journeys - in countries of origin, countries of transit and countries where people seek asylum.
Here in the UK, the British Red Cross is now the largest independent provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Settling into a new country is not easy, and this is often made more difficult for people who are unfamiliar with the language, or separated from family and friends. From providing English classes, to befriending projects, we support thousands of refugees each year to settle into life in a new country.
But even here in the UK we still see people placed under immense strain just to survive: unable to be reunited with loved ones and left destitute by the asylum system. There is more we can and must do in our country to create a more humane environment for those who seek refuge here.
Few of these people ever wanted to leave their homes, many were forced to do so because of conflict and persecution. Every time I meet someone supported by our refugee services I am overwhelmed by their astounding resilience. Young men and women who have lived a thousand lives before theirs have even truly begun. They are people who need both protection and the tools to rebuild their futures.
Each year Refugee Week is an opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution refugees make to our communities. And it’s not just the Olympian achievements of incredible people like Mo Farah, it’s also the shop workers, nurses, teachers and artists too. So many refugees have so much to offer our communities.
Many are even volunteers who give back to other refugees and the countries that helped them. They’re all desperate to start their new lives, to work, to contribute to the countries that helped them.
It is understandable that those of us who want to help may feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and the politics around it. However connecting with simple, human compassion can be all it takes to make a difference. Wherever you live, you can start by helping make refugees in your community feel welcome.
To support more refugees to build a new life in safety visit: www.redcross.org.uk/refugeecrisis