On World Refugee Day: an opportunity to change the narrative

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By: Samantha Joseph, Account Manager

I was standing in the medical container of the refugee camp in Greece where I was volunteering when all the sudden, I heard shouting and saw dozens of people running towards me. In the chaos, it was very difficult to tell what had happened and who was hurt. Two children were passed to our nurses and I could see they were severely burned. A woman was laid down at our door unconscious, a man was screaming. Someone finally translated – a gas cooker had exploded inside of a tent where a mother, father and two of their three children were sitting. In their pursuit of safety, this family, like so many, was left with life-changing injuries. This story and so many others highlight why World Refugee Day is so important. According to the UN, we have never had more displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution. During these arduous journeys, thousands don’t even survive.

The numbers

  • Every day, 28,300 people are forced to leave their homes because of conflict and persecution.
  • There are 22.5 million refugees, half of which are under the age of 18.
  • In total, there are 65.6 million people displaced around the world.
  • Only 189,300 refugees were resettled in 2016 worldwide.

Standing with #WithRefugees

In 2016, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched a #WithRefugees campaign and petition and to date, almost two million people have pledged their support. With World Refugee Day this month, the UNHCR hopes to continue to build momentum for this petition, which encourages decision makers to ensure three basic goals: that every refugee child gets an education, has somewhere safe to live, and can work or learn new skills to support their families.

In addition to many NGO and nonprofit partners, major brands have joined the #WithRefugees coalition including Airbnb, Ben & Jerry’s, Expedia, H&M, IKEA, Microsoft, Orange, and WeWork, among others. For World Refugee Day, there are many examples of these companies and others demonstrating their strong commitments to this crisis, here are just a few:

1.        IKEA: Ikea is launching a new social entrepreneurship program for female Syrian refugees in Jordan who will make rugs and decorative pillows for Ikea’s Tilltalande collection. These women will benefit from gaining a job and a regular income, and Ikea will benefit from tapping into their unique skills.

2.       TripAdvisor: TripAdvisor has partnered with NeedsList, a marketplace for communities in crisis, to connect its employees to remote tasks that meet specific technical or volunteer needs of NGOs supporting refugees. Employees are expected to volunteer on a variety of projects including web development, business strategy assessments, translation requests and virtual mentorship opportunities to support refugee entrepreneurs.

3.       WeWork: WeWork has joined the global effort to celebrate refugees and their contributions to communities around the world by making a commitment to hire 1,500 refugees over five years. This initiative will expand upon a successful pilot program which created employment opportunities for 150 refugees in just six months.

How you can help

Most of the messages we see today paint immigrants and refugees as the “other.” We are told to fear, not welcome. To “otherize” someone is to label them as different and assume they are against us in a zero-sum competition. As the children and grandchildren of immigrants and refugees, we know there is nothing to fear. We know that this country has enough opportunity for everyone who wants to build a better life here.

As communicators and marketers, we play a critical role in creating the narrative shared across the country. We have an opportunity and responsibility to do more to change it. We can promote the #WithRefugees campaign. We can amplify the great work that so many brands are doing to support refugees. Most importantly, we can tell stories that highlight our shared humanity.