The Blog

World Humanitarian Day: Building Barriers or Opening Our Arms

Across the world, more than 60million people have been displaced by conflicts and disasters, according to the UN. This is the highest number since WWII and the same population as the whole of the UK.

Smartly clad in jeans and a matching blue shirt, Joshua steps out of a crowded bus and walks onto the dusty gravel grounds that welcomes all at Tanzania's Nyarugusu refugee camp.

Holding onto his small backpack and a trendy mobile phone, he might as well have been on his way to work in central London.

But the look of bewilderment on his face betrays his actual location for this is Nyarugusu: a sprawling refugee camp currently hosting around 120,000 people.

As it turns out, one bus ride has transformed Joshua's life from a prominent and successful Burundi businessman to a desperate refugee with little possession beyond what he has in his satchel. For a home, his house in urban Burundi has now been replaced with small patch of grass on the cold ground in a mass tent.

Not knowing that I was simply visiting this camp for a day, Joshua asks me where he could find his family who fled Burundi before him; and where he could get some food and water.

This is what it's like to arrive at Nyaragusu: one of the oldest refugee camps in the world. Originally designed to shelter 50,000 people, since April this camp has seen the numbers more than double. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Nyaragusu is now home to about 60,000 Burundian refugees, who have fled Burundi over the last months. They have joined approximately 60,000 Congolese who have lived in the camp since 1996.

In our world today, far too many people who can relate to Joshua's experience.

Across the world, more than 60million people have been displaced by conflicts and disasters, according to the UN. This is the highest number since WWII and the same population as the whole of the UK.

Conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen are devastating millions of lives. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones and typhoons have shattered countries like Nepal and the Philippines.

My experiences in such places as an aid worker in these places, give me a reason to reflect as we commemorate World Humanitarian Day today (19 August). As we honour the unsung heroes - fellow World Vision and other humanitarian colleagues - who assume great personal risk to respond to humanitarian crises in places like Syria, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, and other active crises, we ponder on the various unmet needs many other places.

Recently I was in the Central African Republic where I met doctors who had turned down lucrative job offers in safer cities choosing to serve in conflict-riven villages and care for those left alone. In Sierra Leone, I met people who survive Ebola choose to go work to bury infected bodies to help stop the disease from infecting others. These humanitarians show us that there is still hope in the middle of death and destruction.

Humanitarians choose to remain where people suffer because they believe that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. They act to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings. They abide by the principle of 'humanity'.

Closer to home, we are reminded of the state of the world far too often when boats of people seeking safety on the shores of Europe, sink in the Mediterranean. Some politicians and media commentators call them "illegal migrants", betraying the realities of the often terrible places they come from. Many are from the war zones mentioned earlier.

We are all reminded today of why a humanitarian mindset is critically needed in Europe. It is our moral and legal obligation to treat refugees with humanity and dignity and ensure that our societies rediscover compassion for our fellow human beings. We need humanitarians to act and speak out both in Europe and overseas about this issue.

In a world where crises are increasing in complexity and magnitude, saving lives is becoming even harder and this year humanitarian organisations will be aiming to reach 78.9 million of the world's most vulnerable people across 37 countries with life-saving humanitarian assistance. That is nearly double the number from just ten years ago.

Year on year, humanitarian needs are outstripping our capacity and the resources made available to respond to the tens of millions of people in countries around the world facing life-threatening humanitarian crises.

This is a wakeup call. We recognise that each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others; and each one of us has the power to inspire our fellow human beings to take action to create a more humane world.