The weekend likely began as any other, offering a brief break from the business of work or the studies of school. There may have been mindless errands run or time with friends, a birthday party or a spontaneous get-together. Until the unthinkable happened and your world turned upside-down.
In the course of a few days, this area you love, filled with families, shops and restaurants is transformed into a war zone. You must escape, as your neighbourhood will soon be erased from the map.
You gather as many personal items as you can carry in a backpack, and wear layers of clothing despite the heat, just so you’ll have more than one outfit to wear. You set out walking to the newly designated evacuation zone and take turns helping your less able loved ones carry their belongings along this grim journey.
As you pass through what was once a bustling city street, you instead see bodies scattered along the path. You look away, hoping it was no one you knew, but keep walking because you don’t want to be next.
The closer you get to the promise of safety, the more frightening the walk becomes, as weapons are pointed in your direction and random explosions happen around you. A small white flag, which you wave as enemies approach, is your only hope for mercy.
When you finally arrive on the other side, you are given water and as much food as humanitarian groups were able to get into the camp with their limited access. You will endure days—perhaps weeks—there and then you must continue on to where you will resettle, as there’s nothing left of home.
You will then begin a new life in a country that’s not your own, where you may not speak the same language, as you navigate the trauma you just experienced as a victim of war.
What you just read is an example of the type of journey many refugees go through to seek asylum. Some of them arrive having escaped war; others are displaced due to climate catastrophes, but none chose their given path. The sad reality is that many of their situations worsen once they reach their “safe” country. Whether it be due to systematic failures, racism or blatant crime, the population of displaced individuals are automatically vulnerable in their new surroundings.
On this International Migrants Day, we’ll examine the reasons why refugees exist, discuss the most significant challenges they face and offer ways to lend support to those in need.
War and Conflict
As we’ve witnessed most recently during the Israel-Hamas war, it is estimated that over 2 million people have been displaced from the area. While that’s an astounding number on its own, last year the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that over 108.4 million people were displaced worldwide, which broke a previous record. The war in Ukraine, and ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Syria have caused the highest migrations. Until the regions re-discover peace and end the violence, these numbers will sadly only grow higher.
War is not the only cause of migration—many citizens in formerly hospitable places have been forced to flee due to the conditions of the land and water that surrounds them. They typically come from economically fragile, rural areas that have no capacity for recovery. Bangladesh suffered terrible losses as a result of flooding; natural disasters such as hurricanes in Central America have increased migration from that region; Indigenous Peoples worldwide are experiencing the loss of their habitats due to the extreme shifts in weather and damage to the natural ecosystem. What only worsens this reality? According to international refugee law, those displaced due to climate change are not officially considered refugees, which leaves them even more vulnerable to bureaucratic delays in their adopted countries.
The trauma of losing one’s home and leaving all that’s familiar behind is significant. Though there are many stories of peaceful, productive relocations for migrants who have escaped unimaginable horrors, unfortunately many times these new residents are faced with additional challenges. Finding work, establishing citizenship and earning money to survive can take months or even years. In the interim, many are subject to human trafficking and workplace abuse due to the lack of resources or options available to them as non-citizens.
In Australia, it was reported that half of their migrant workforce feel unsafe, Canada was called out by the United Nations for ‘exploitation and abuse’ of their migrant workers, the Human Rights Watch group accuses the United Kingdom of ‘serious abuses,’ to migrants in the workplace, and in the United States, migrant workers in the agricultural sector are suffering from extreme heat due to lax labour laws, among other issues.
How to Help
Though the problems are complicated and vast, there are many reputable organisations attempting to bring resolve. Here are just a few ways to assist in efforts to eliminate migrant abuse and promote positive treatment of refugees:
Talent Beyond Boundaries provides opportunities worldwide to displaced people so that they can safely relocate and rebuild their lives using their skill set in a new host country.
Miles 4 Migrants uses donated airline miles, travel vouchers and gift cards to provide aid to those displaced by war, persecution or climate disaster.
Amnesty International helps reunite asylum seekers with their loved ones and provide ongoing support.
Justice for Migrant Women supports the rights of women regardless of their migration history or place of employment.
Migrants Resource Centre Canada helps empower workers through education, training and advocacy.
If your city or town has a program to help transition refugees, that’s a great place to lend a hand. Above all else, if you encounter a migrant in your community, welcome them with kindness—they’ve likely faced many challenges to get there …