Thursday, May 19, 2011

Refugees: International Refugee Crisis Unprecedented But Not on Public's Radar

SOURCE United States Association for UNHCR

As the world marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United States Association for UNHCR (USA for UNHCR) is stepping up its efforts to raise awareness and life-saving help for the world's most vulnerable people – the more than 43 million refugees and displaced people forced to abandon their countries or their homes because of conflict, war or persecution.

Coming at a time when a new poll finds widespread confusion about the nature and extent of a global displacement crisis that is now unprecedented in size, USA for UNHCR is calling on more Americans to take part in its Blue Key Campaign – a new U.S.-based initiative to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and inspire action. The campaign also aims to increase support for UNHCR's lifesaving operations in more than 120 countries around the world.

The new poll, commissioned by USA for UNHCR, reveals that most Americans don't know what a refugee is, significantly underestimate the size of the refugee population, and vastly overestimate funding for the UN Refugee Agency. Conducted in April 2011 by ORC International (ORC), the poll also finds that Americans are largely in the dark about the plight of refugees around the world and are not aware of the role they can play in safeguarding the rights of displaced people.

"If there was ever a time for Americans to learn what is at stake for those escaping war, persecution and violence, it is now," said Marc Breslaw, executive director of USA for UNHCR. "The need for worldwide assistance for refugees and displaced persons has never been greater, yet many Americans are unaware of the challenges refugees face around the world or the role individual citizens can play to safeguard the rights of displaced people. The Blue Key Campaign is an opportunity for Americans to get the facts and join a global effort to speak out for refugees."

Currently, UNHCR is engaged in tackling large humanitarian emergencies across the globe, including the current crisis in Libya, which has triggered the exodus of more than 740,000 refugees since February. In 2009 alone, more than 26 million people – 10.4 million refugees and 15.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) – were receiving protection or assistance from UNHCR. This is one million more than in 2008.

Survey Findings Are a Wake-Up Call: Americans Are Unaware of the Unprecedented Refugee Crisis and Its Costs

USA for UNHCR's new awareness effort is the outgrowth of a poll of 1,010 American adults that finds the public is largely unaware of the scope of the international refugee crisis and where the needs are greatest. Among the poll's results are these new findings:

  • Only four in ten adults (42 percent) know that refugees are people who must leave their home countries because of war or conflict or due to fear of oppression. Many Americans (48 percent) also consider immigrants and stateless persons to be refugees.
  • When it comes to the number of refugees now in the world, only nine percent of respondents provided the correct estimate of the refugee population (UNHCR estimated more than 43.3 million refugees and internally displaced people at the end of 2009). In contrast, 44 percent put the refugee population at between 5 million and 25 million people and another 20 percent estimated between 25 million and 35 million people.
  • Americans are unaware of the composition of today's refugee populations and where they are located. More than half of adults (56 percent) mistakenly believe the U.S. hosts the largest number of refugees when in fact developing countries now host 80 percent of the global refugee population.
  • Out of more than 1,000 people polled, only two people correctly identified Pakistan as the country that now hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide.
  • Most Americans don't know how long refugees live in temporary situations before they can return to their home countries or resettle in a new one. Only six percent of those polled knew that the average displacement time for today's refugees living in camps is 17 years. In contrast, the vast majority (65 percent) put the average displacement time at no more than eight years.
  • The public greatly overestimates the amount of funding UNHCR receives from the United Nations for its operations around the world. On average, Americans believe the UN provides a third of UNHCR's funding with the greatest number of respondents saying UN funding is as high as 50 percent (39 percent). In reality, however, only three percent of UNHCR's total funding comes from the United Nations with the rest coming from donor governments, ordinary people and businesses.
"Being from Afghanistan, a country with one of the largest refugee populations, the cause of displaced persons around the world is an issue that is very dear to my own heart. A strong and enduring international humanitarian commitment is integral to the well-being of refugees, which is why we must shine a light on the terrible and growing refugee crisis," said Khaled Hosseini, goodwill envoy for UNHCR and author The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. "As Americans and leaders in the international community, we have a responsibility to learn about the refugee situation and help those who have been forcibly displaced to rebuild their lives."

Established by concerned U.S. citizens, USA for UNHCR is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.