Days ahead of a landmark international summit on refugees and migrants, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, last week delivered an unprecedented petition in support of refugees.
The #WithRefugees petition with over one million signatures from people across the globe appeals to UN member States to commit to doing their fair share to help people forced to flee conflict or persecution.
Refugees themselves helped the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, to hand over the #WithRefugees petition to the UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the President of the 71st General Assembly, Mr. Peter Thomson, as well as the President of the 70th General Assembly, Mr. Mogens Lykketoft .
Some 200 UN Member States and observers will meet on Monday (September 19) to discuss ways to help refugees and migrants at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. Member States are expected to adopt the New York Declaration, a set of commitments to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants.
High Commissioner Grandi noted the Summit gives a historic opportunity:
“Globally, we are facing the most harrowing series of refugee crises in decades – with more than 65 million people worldwide now living as refugees or uprooted inside their own countries.
“The #WithRefugees petition is about compassion and solidarity. And it’s about standing together with people who have left everything behind – except their hopes, dreams, and determination.
“We need governments to stand #WithRefugees too – and to pledge to work together so that all refugees can find a place of safety; can learn, work and flourish; and can find solutions that allow them to build a secure future.”
Secretary-General Ban noted the global scope of support for refugees:
“Powered by compassion, this global solidarity for refugees has mobilized thousands of volunteers and ordinary people to reach out and help those fleeing war or persecution. Their actions and their voices have countered messages of intolerance and hate.”
President of the General Assembly Thomson noted:
“This petition — safely delivered here today — represents the voices of more than a million people who have publicly declared their stand “WITH refugees”. People — no different than us apart from the circumstances in which they find themselves — forced to flee their homes, often leaving everything behind."
The presentation ceremony also included a performance by award winning Sudanese-American slam poet Emi Mahmoud of her ode to Alan Kurdi and a recitation of the #WithRefugees petition by American actor Ben Stiller and a group of refugees. Refugee Olympic Team athletes Yusra Mardini from Syria and Yeich Pur Biel from South Sudan also attended with Biel speaking about the importance of refugees having a safe place to live. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, model and former refugee Alek Wek provided the opening remarks.
The #WithRefugees petition calls on all governments attending Monday’s Summit to make sure all refugee children can go to school; all refugees have a safe place to live; and that all refugees can work and contribute to their local host community.
Launched in the lead up earlier this year to World Refugee Day (June 20), it will remain active, allowing more people to add their signatures, until a global compact on refugees is agreed. More than 50 entities have backed the campaign, ranging from NGOs, civil society actors and faith based groups to artists, actors and Foundations.
Ben Stiller, actor, director, producer and UNHCR Supporter in a separate statement of support spoke about why he added his voice to the #WithRefugees petition and campaign:
“I met with Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Berlin earlier this year and heard their family stories about what forced them to flee their countries. They escaped horrific violence and lost everything. I am honoured to be here today to help underscore the need for governments to take action and find lasting solutions to this global crisis.”
The event also screened a film produced for the #WithRefugees campaign by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett and Facebook, entitled “What they took with Them”, which examines the trauma when conflict and persecution force people to leave their homes.
A refugee herself, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Alek Wek introduced the screening of the video; and in a separate statement said why she is supporting the #WithRefugees campaign.
“There is no doubt that I would not be where I am today if people had not stood with me when I was a refugee. The #WithRefugees campaign demonstrates that people all over the world want to see governments come together and support refugees. Over half of the world’s refugees are children. We need to ensure these children receive an education, that their parents can work, that their families have safe shelter. This is the least we can do. It’s crucial that governments act in solidarity and drastically improve their response to this current crisis.”