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12 March 2018
The Global Refugee Crisis, One Person at a Time

By Carla Ruas, Member, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

 

From a young age, Amir Ashour assisted members of the LGBTQ+ community in Iraq, providing safe housing to those whose lives were threatened – by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), by the government, and in some cases, by their own families. But instead of receiving an award for his heroic human rights activism, Ashour was accused of running brothels. He was beaten up and arrested by the Iraqi government multiple times. Fearing for his own life, Ashour fled the country in 2015 and found refuge in Sweden.


The young activist shared his remarkable life story during
The Global Goals Refugee Crisis panel at the UNA-USA Global Engagement Summit. The event, which took place at the United Nations on February 23, gave UNA-USA members an opportunity to attend panels about the most pressing issues facing the organization. One of the most daunting challenges is no doubt the global refugee crisis, as worldwide displacement hits its highest level on record.

Ashour is one of 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their countries, including nearly 22.5 million refugees, according to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This means that every day, 28,300 people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. “The numbers are daunting,” said Grainne O’Hara, Deputy Director of UNHCR’s New York office, who was also on the panel. “Sometimes to the point of being overwhelming,” she said.

 

As the figures are important to reveal the global scale of the issue and push for more resources and programs, O’Hara reminded the public that behind the numbers are human beings. “Before we know it, we are talking about people as if they were commodities,” she stated. “But it’s through recognizing their humanity that we can make progress.” One way to do that is to keep in mind that the global crisis is no distant reality – anyone could fall prey to circumstances in his or her own country and become a refugee.

 

Acknowledging the different backgrounds of refugees and asylum seekers can also help in the resettlement process. A successful approach has been for refugees to tell their stories to make an initial connection with a few people, who later introduce them to the rest of the community. “It takes away some of the mystery and anxiety about the newcomers who may seem very different,” said to Gillian Sorensen, who is a Board Member of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and who was also on the panel.

 

Living in Sweden, safer from persecution, Amir Ashour has reached his full potential. The activist founded IraQueer, the first LGBT+ human rights organization in Iraq’s history, with a network of more than 600 activists assisting people on the ground. He was also finally recognized for his human rights work. Ashour was invited to speak at the UN on multiple occasions and was recently nominated for the David Kato Vision & Voice Award, which commends LGBT+ leaders around the world.