By TOM GODFREY
Thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan are causing concern and strain for the UN and countries like Canada that will next month recognize those who are displaced.
Some of those fleeing war-torn countries manage to make it to Canada, or the U.S., where they can seek asylum. Canada accepts about 15,000 refugees each year and will resettle up to 1,300 Syrian refugees this year who are fleeing the crisis in their homeland.
Another 5,000 refugees are privately sponsored annually by churches and groups with help from the federal government.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on June 20 will mark World Refugee Day to remember those who made “a life-changing decision to flee their homeland”.
“This is yet another year of unprecedented challenges for the UNHCR,” the body said. “We have helped find durable solutions for tens of millions of refugees and they remain our core constituency.”
World Refugee Day (WRD) is observed in more than 100 countries by governments, aid workers, celebrities and civilians.
The UN estimated there were about 10.4 million refugees of concern last year. Another 4.8 million are looked after in some 60 camps in the Middle East.
Refugees are forced to flee their homelands due to war, conflict or persecution, the UNHCR said.
Canadians and community groups are urged to mark the day by attending a local World Refugee Day event, sharing WRD videos or raising awareness on social media.
A list of events across Canada is being compiled.
Some groups, like the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), believe Canada can be doing more to help asylum seekers.
CCR president Loly Rico has said changes made in 2012 to Canada’s refugee system is making it more difficult for refugees.
The changes include quicker hearings and a list of countries from which refugees are ineligible to file claims.
“The new refugee system is failing some claimants, including the most vulnerable people who have been traumatized by the persecution they have suffered,” Rico said in a release. “As Canadians we are proud of our history of welcoming and protecting refugees.”
He said Canada is now a “less welcoming country, and some refugees who need our protection are not getting in”.
Still, the UN said the flow of refugees continue as people seek safety, food and freedom.
Former claimant May Toke said it was tough to leave her home in Myanmar to travel to Thailand, and then Australia.
“It was the biggest decision we had ever made as a family and leave our dream of going back to our mother land,” Toke told UNHCR officials.
Julie La said her family was forced to flee Vietnam to Malaysia due to politics.
“The Vietnamese government was trying to cleanse the ethnic Chinese population from the country,” La said. “Many families were separated since not all members of each family were able to board the boat.”
The family ended up in Washington, D.C.