In its tireless efforts to aid displaced people around the world, Refugees International has earned a fervent ally in actor Thomas Sadoski.
Pictures of 170 Rohingya children arriving on an Indonesian shore: dehydrated, starving, terrified, alone. Those images haunt me. The children were sent to sea by parents so desperate and powerless that they believed their last, best—perhaps only—option was to pay what little money they had to exploitative traffickers who would ferry them to the safety of sometimes-unknown extended families an ocean away. These 170 children were lucky to have survived. Many others, in many other places, are not so fortunate. Appallingly, this story is not unique.
As of the most recent United Nations High Commission on Refugees accounting, the worldwide total of forcibly displaced persons stands at a staggering and record-setting 59.5 million, roughly equivalent to the population of the United Kingdom. Of those, 19.5 million are legally defined as refugees. And of those, children make up an estimated 51 percent.
That means that of the 19.5 million refugees worldwide in 2014, almost 10 million were children.
“This is a small organization made up of the biggest people, who stare down seemingly insurmountable odds.”
Furthermore, the UNHCR report reveals trends that are incredibly troubling. Almost all show a shocking rate of increase. Far too often, phrases such as “highest figure on record” and “unprecedented” appear. By all accounts, we have reached, as UNHCR Commissioner António Guterres states, “a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement, as well as the response required, is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”
So what to do? And who to do it? Within those overwhelming numbers are many questions that need to be asked, stories that must be told, and facts that should be laid bare. To grasp the significance of each situation and work toward a real enduring solution, particularly in places of conflict, requires experience, incredible compassion, intelligence, and integrity. All parties, especially the most vulnerable, must feel safe to discuss the origin and evolution of their circumstances. Understandably, fear of reprisal and worry about conflicting interests can cause such vulnerable populations to view aid organizations with suspicion. On the other side, government officials require assurances that the facts and recommendations for action that they receive are coming with the highest degree of objectivity, insight, and proficiency. Which leads me to Refugees International.
Since 1979, RI has been working both on the ground with displaced populations and in the halls of government to advocate for meaningful and, most importantly, systemic change. It has been on the vanguard working to ensure that actions are taken quickly and wisely to provide stability and to prevent further escalation, conflict, and human suffering. With its roots in a powerful citizens’ movement to protect Indo-Chinese refugees, RI’s standing among the most vulnerable is rock solid, its integrity is immediately evident and indisputable. Additionally, its steadfast policy of categorically refusing funding from governments and the United Nations provides RI with absolutely essential neutrality, focus, and dexterity to effectively reach, engage, and advocate for those most in need. Whether working for people internally displaced by the drug cartels in Mexico, exposing the apartheid conditions of the Rohingya in Myanmar, fighting on behalf of women brutalized in the conflict in the Central African Republic, or tirelessly campaigning for Syrian refugees, RI has not only been present; it has succeeded. Demonstrating its prudence and farsightedness, it has also begun working on what will be (if we fail to act) the next great humanitarian crisis: the masses who will be displaced as a result of climate change.
I learned of the organization from RI board member, friend, and mentor Sam Waterston. I will be forever grateful for the introduction. I have since become a determined ally and supporter of RI because, frankly, it employs many of the most capable, fearless, and uncompromising individuals I have met. This is a small organization made up of the biggest people. They unflinchingly stare down seemingly insurmountable odds and by doing so offer dignity and hope to those, like the 170 Rohingya children and so many others, who are desperately in need of both. It has been my honor to know them and my privilege to speak on their behalf. Refugees International, 2001 S St. NW, Ste. 700, 202-828-0110