By: REBECCA CURRAN
World Refugee Day, June 20, was created to raise awareness and attention to the global refugee situation. The day is devoted to giving people like E’deyi Adom a voice among the international community.
In 1999, Adom, a current Carleton University student, was forced to flee his homeland due to an ongoing civil war in Sudan.
Adom made his way to Kenya, where he stayed in a refugee camp until 2011, at which point he came to Canada.
While living in the camp, he, like many people in refugee camps, was denied the right to work and thus was dependent on aide workers.
Adom has noticed misconceptions among people regarding refugee issues, and stresses the point that “a refugee is someone without options. No one wants to be a refugee.”
While Adom has been lucky enough to be sponsored to come to Carleton through the Student Refugee Program by World University Services, few other refugees have the same opportunity.
According to James Milner, associate professor of Political Science at Carleton, and former worker for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are more than 14 million refugees in the world, of which 80 per cent remain in developing counties.
Milner defines a refugee as “someone who has been outside of their country of origin for well founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, their nationality, their political opinion, or their membership in a particular social group.”
The public discourse surrounding refugees has changed over the past two decades, says Milner, adding that there is often misunderstanding around refugee issues.
“It used to be that a refugee, regardless of the reason, was associated with heroism. In the past twenty years though, the popular belief has changed that most refugees are fake.”
Milner emphasizes that the time a refugee spends in a camp has more than doubled in the past two decades; going from nine years in 1993, to twenty years today.
Milner says that while refugees are mostly a concern for developing countries, Canada also has a role to play, and there are potential benefits to this role.
“Canada is a multicultural country, Canada is a country that is committed to peace, security, development and prosperity around the world,” says Milner, “The prolonged presence of refugees not only represents a failure for us to do what we’ve committed ourselves to doing, but is an impediment to our long-term success.”
Milner states that there are three main reasons that the Canadian government should engage with this issue, such as value for money, economic opportunity and building political capital.
“Canada is spending more than 50 million dollars a year on refugees. We should be spending that money in a cost effective way that leads to solutions, not into this endless process of just providing handouts…”
In addition, the presence of refugee populations tends to be a burden on states, and by countries helping resolve the problem, Milner claims this may lead to economic opportunities and increased political capital.
Although there are still many challenges and obstacles, Milner remains optimistic.
“Something very practical can be done, there’s a roadmap on how to do it. So, it’s not inevitable that we have this problem…The solution is clear on what we need to do, we just need to demand that it be put in place.”