Digging an access road in Simbili settlement,Rhino camp,Arua. Oxfam is providing short-term employment to both refugees and host communities to help ensure that refugees can earn small amounts of money to meet basic needs. Oxfam’s “cash-for-work” program includes basic construction work like clearing access roads and digging waste pits. As new refugees work alongside host community members, the initiative helps to minimize conflict between the different groups, and improves the infrastructure that they all share. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

This year like every other year, the world marks yet another UN World Refugee day and yet again we have an increase in statistics on the number of people who would have fled their home countries all around the world either as a result of war or natural disasters. According to the displacement data recently released by UNHCR, by the end of 2013 the total numbers of refugees had gone up by over a million from 15.4 million[1] in 2012 to 16.7 million people worldwide,[2] with Sub-Saharan Africa having about 2.9 million refugees. This increase has been contributed by the recent on-going conflicts the world has witnessed in Syria, with Central Africa Republic and South Sudan contributing to the majority of new displacements. While no one deserves to flee their homes unwillingly, what I have come to appreciate over the years of my interaction with people who have had to leave their homes notwithstanding the very difficult situations is that, they always strive to rise above their circumstances. Whereas they may be referred to as the stateless or refugees, forming statistics of those in need of aid and assistance, most of those whom I have encountered are resilient and refuse to let their circumstances define them.

Gone are the days that refugees are only the poorest of the poor but as conflicts become more vicious we see even the well off being displaced, a reminder that when war destroys a nation it never spares anyone and all become vulnerable and exposed to harsh uncontrollable situations. Though conflict and displacement exacerbates levels of poverty and sense of hopelessness, my admiration is on how those displaced defy the odds to rebuild their lives with determination making the best of what they have got to restore their dignity and pride as human beings. The truth of the matter is no one wants to be a refugee – we all want to have some place where we belong. So to see this group of our society picking up their lives albeit in some difficult and desperate times lights up my heart that all is not lost yet and there is hope for humanity.

It is inconsiderate of political leaders who refuse to reason to subject their constituents, who put them in leadership positions to unbearable ways of life just because they are too hungry for power or too blind to realise the kind of injustice they bring upon those who elevated them to power. There is an African saying UBUNTU that says I am because you are. It is time all leaders exercised some UBUNTU by remembering that they are who they are because of the people. And when differences arise within their ranks they need to stop and reconsider proper mechanisms of resolving their differences in a democratic and peaceful manner instead of calling upon those who support them to pick up arms.

Nonetheless it is commendable of all host communities who open up their arms to welcome brethren in need of a safe haven without prejudice or expecting anything in return, even when resources are scarce. Most of those who have fled their homes have been able to rebuild their lives to some level of normalcy because of the generosity they have received otherwise it would have been devastating if they did not have anywhere to run to.

However with depleting levels of resources in the world coupled by harsh economic times, the world cannot afford to sit by as the numbers of those forcibly displaced continues to grow. Therefore as we mark this year’s World Refugee day, it is my hope that leaders and their governments will be held accountable to exercise sobriety and caution when dealing with matters of national importance. That they will rise above self-preservation and selfishness to put their fellow countrymen first before the greed that blinds justice and sense of equality. It is my hope that, someday the war torn countries will gain a sense of peace for all to be able to return to their homes and have a place to call home again.


[1] http://www.unhcr.org.uk/about-us/key-facts-and-figures.html

[2] http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/world-refugee-day-global-forced-displacement-tops-50-million-for-first-time-in-post-world-war-ii-er.html

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Written by Fran Equiza

Fran is Oxfam GB's Regional Director for the Horn, East and Central Africa. He's based in Nairobi and arrived in late 2010, after previously managing Oxfam GB programmes in Latin America

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