The day of the safe haven

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva discusses the plight of displaced people across the world – 42 million people as a result of natural disasters in 2010 alone – a problem which she says may be heightened by climate change and population growth.

Kristalina Georgieva is European commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response.

She is an economist, has taught at several universities including the London School of Economics, and has held various positions on environmental policy at the World Bank, including director for sustainable development between 2007 and 2008.

This commentary was first published on her official blog.

"Ten years ago we marked 20 June for the first time as a special day, dedicated to the millions of people pushed out of their homes by conflicts or disasters. In my travels around the world, in Haiti, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen, Thailand, Japan, Tunisia, the occupied Palestinian territories, I have witnessed the struggles of men and women, of fathers and mothers, children and grandparents to rebuild their lives away from home. As I write this blog, I see their faces and hear their stories again. It is a good decision to have a World Refugee Day, to honour them and to lift up attention to their hopes for a better future.

The world first dealt with the rights of refugees because of the massive displacements in Europe caused by World War II. It was for that reason that UNCHR was born, and in this post-war context the first refugee convention with binding international standards for the treatment of refugees was signed 60 years ago.

When in 1951 the UN General Assembly established the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees it gave it only a three year mandate – an optimistic outlook to a problem that was meant to disappear. Today we know better – or worse – as we watch the number of refugees grow. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, in 2010 over 42 million people were displaced by natural disasters alone – six times more than the population of my own country, Bulgaria.

Add those that are uprooted by conflicts, and the number grows much higher. As we pause to recognise this year's World Refugee Day, a new flight to safety originates from Syria – adding thousands of refugees to the ones from Libya, Sudan and so many other places where conflicts or changing climate sends the rate of displacement to new heights.

What does the future hold? Most likely the world tomorrow will be financially richer, but also more fragile – because of climate change, expanding population and the complexities of our societies. We will have the means to help each other in this more fragile world, but we will have to muster the will to do so. We, Europeans, who so many times were the refugees ourselves, for many decades have led the world in commitment to humanity.

In today's harsh economic environment, worried about our domestic problems, we risk to lose sight of this commitment. Today, on World Refugee Day, it is a good moment to look back and remember the past, and to look forward and work for a better future."

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