World Refugee Day is meant to be a celebration of the human spirit and the courage of the millions of people who, despite being displaced and dispossessed, are striving tirelessly to improve their lives and those of their families and communities.
Yet this year we are reminded once again of the work ahead of us as world leaders remain unable or unwilling to resolve conflicts. At UNHCR, we recently announced what seemed unimaginable: 100 million people have now been forced to flee their homes. The war in Ukraine, as well as new or ongoing emergencies in places like Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have all contributed to this staggering figure. The solutions gap continues to grow as more people are forced to flee than they are able to return home, resettle in a third country or fully integrate into the country where they sought safety. In other words, forced displacement overtakes the solutions for those on the run.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Leaders can work together to make peace and resolve the plight of displaced people with durable and humane solutions.
Côte d’Ivoire, for example, where I am currently celebrating World Refugee Day, emerged from a violent conflict that forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country. More than 310,000 Ivorian refugees – more than 96% of those displaced – have returned home voluntarily over the past decade. And by working together, countries in the region have taken it upon themselves to integrate those who choose to stay, regularizing their stay in their new homes and communities.
Returning home or settling permanently in their new home provides a life-changing sense of security for those who have had to leave everything behind. Elodie returned from Liberia with her sisters to their village Bably Vaya in 2020. Thanks to a grant from UNHCR, they opened a salon, which they named Sehatizi. She explained that the name of their salon means “the time of suffering has passed”, indicating the end of exile and the rebuilding of their life at home.
Elodie’s story – and that of hundreds of thousands of others – illustrates the possible solutions for refugees and other forcibly displaced people when peace is achieved and countries work together. Tragically, this is also a rare example.
This is why today, on the occasion of World Refugee Day, I call on States to turn to countries like Côte d’Ivoire, which recognize that ending wars and conflicts is the best – and only – antidote to forced displacement. The world has a choice: either unite to reverse the trend of persecution, violence and war, or accept that the legacy of the 21st century is one of continued forced displacement. We all know what the right – and smart – thing to do is.
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