This Week in Restoring Family Links: World Refugee Day 2016

This Week in Restoring Family Links: World Refugee Day 2016

This week on June 20th, the world recognized World Refugee Day. A day established by the United Nations to celebrate the resilience of refugees while also calling attention to the plight of millions globally. In order to highlight this occasion, the Restoring Family Links program of the American Red Cross presents the following infographic. 

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A Day in the Life of a Refugee

Story by Connor Donaldson, Volunteer, Denver, CO

During the simulation, participants receive "paperwork" that recreates the experience many refugees face when encountering an unfamiliar language.

During the simulation, participants receive "paperwork" that recreates the experience many refugees face when encountering an unfamiliar language.

Each day, millions of people around the globe scrape out an existence as refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers. To help raise awareness during last month’s World Refugee Day celebrations, the Global Refugee Center in Greeley, Colorado hosted an open house centered on their “A Walk in their Shoes” simulation.

This simulation, based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, attempts to give participants a glimpse of life as a refugee. Through a variety of scenarios, following the path from displacement to border crossings to life in refugee camps, the simulation uses sensory deprivation, assigned disabilities, and synthetic foreign languages to simulate the everyday hardships that refugees face. For many participants, this eye-opening experience is the first exposure to the daily plight of displaced persons and refugees. Many found it hard to handle and disturbing.

For the simulation, I was assigned the role of a five-year-old girl, initially separated from her family by a bombing and muted by a poison gas attack. As a student of international humanitarian law, it was really difficult to walk through this simulation, understanding that while we can walk away and return to our lives of comfort and ease, this is the reality of millions of people.

Each step in the process illustrated the abuses of humanitarian law, from the bombing of civilians by a government entity to the demanding of bribes by border security, violating international rights of migration. I watched as my “family” was separated, harassed, and I was eventually left behind, since my “father” had nothing to bribe the guards with to get me across the border. This is a constant reality for people living in fear, fleeing for their lives from natural disasters, sectarian and political violence, and religious persecution.

Through this simulation, I met a refugee from the Kayah State of Burma who fled political persecution with her family when she was 5 years old. She walked through the simulation with us, and afterword sat down with me to discuss the simulation and her experiences as a refugee. She mentioned that during the sensory-deprivation section of the course, with flashing lights and banging noises, gave her flashbacks to her father carrying her through the jungle, fleeing the policemen searching for her father.

That statement really affected me; a punch in the gut serving as a final reminder that this is reality for people around the globe, and that nothing we simulate can possibly reach the levels of sheer terror experienced by these people, but this simulation did have the power to give the briefest taste of such horrors.

For more information of the Global Refugee Center, visit

Read more about the rights of civilians and refugees by clicking here.

For more stories from the American Red Cross in Colorado, please visit their blog.

RSVP for Emerging Humanitarian Frontiers

Join the American Red Cross and George Washington University Institute for Global and International Studies for "Emerging Humanitarian Frontiers." At this two-day forum, participants will collaborate in working groups, on topics like the use of cutting-edge technology in emergencies and engagement of local voices in global response, to develop clear recommendations for submission to the WHS Secretariat in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. 

The forum will take place June 1-2, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Plenary sessions will be live-streamed. See full program and schedule below.

To RSVP and learn more about the conference visit Follow us @HumanityinWar #HumanitarianFrontiers

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 03/07/2015 - 03/13/2015

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.


Syria: This week we highlighted some of the ongoing problems facing Syrian refugees. With the war in Syria entering its fifth year, millions of displaced people continue to suffer from a lack of humanitarian aid. International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Joanne Liu, describes how her organization faces a series of political and social obstacles in providing medical services to the region. In addition to facing physical threats, Syrians are also in danger of losing part of their cultural heritage. With ISIS and other military forces continuing to operate in Syria, fighting has led to a transnational effort to protect cultural and historical artifacts that lie within the combat zone. 

Outside of Syria, the country’s neighbors also face numerous obstacles due to the massive influx of refugees requiring assistance within their borders.  As the war drags on, deeper issues outside of meeting basic living standards have arisen. With much of the adult Syrian men back at home, a large proportion of refugees are women and children. As a vulnerable population group, they have been subject to numerous challenges including forced prostitution, child labor, and religious persecution. In Turkey, for example, only 1/3 of Syrian youth are receiving a formal education – raising fears of a poorly educated generation entering the labor market.  Unless there are some radical new developments the situation will only get worse since the total number of Syrians forced out of their country could exceed 5 million by the end of the year (from roughly 4 million now).

Unaccompanied Children - Pressing obstacles and issues still exist for minors around the globe – specifically youth who have been separated from their families. In the US, research has indicated that some states are far more likely to deport unaccompanied minor migrants who have entered the country than others (i.e. 30% in Georgia vs. 9% in Florida). These differences in court processing present an interesting situation regarding federal oversight of state policies. In cases where migrant youth have obtained legal status there have already been successful stories of their acclimation into American society.

Globally, hundreds of fleeing minors have perished during treks across the Mediterranean, facing deceitful traffickers, extortionists, and the ferocity of the high seas. This week, the UN announced proposals for actions European nations should take to address their migration crises, including meeting the needs of unaccompanied children. Organizations such as Save the Children have already been mandated by respective governments to provide services to youth that land on European shores.  

International Women's Day-  This past week celebrated International Women’s Day, with Restoring Family Links giving a special shout out to current and former female activists.  This week, a group of women announced plans to walk across the demilitarization zone between the Koreas in a call for peace and “to help unite Korean families tragically separated by an artificial man-made division.” In addition, we highlighted the ongoing sociopolitical struggle in much of South East Asia – Burma in particular – where Zin Mar Aung, a female rights activist who has spent 11 years in prison for protesting government policies, continues to promote democracy and increased female agency within the region. We also honored Clara Barton, a powerful social agent and founder of the American Red Cross in her quest to alleviate human suffering and promote principles that affirm the intrinsic value of every person within society.

A Day of Revolt

Story by Cody Austin, Washington Region, International Services Coordinator

Human Rights Day commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 following the horrors of WWII. Though your eyes may already have begun to glaze over, do not be deceived. It is not history. It is not diplomacy. It is a thundering cry of revolt!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an audacious celebration of our inalienable inheritance, a daring declaration of human dignity and all that must accompany it. The anniversary of its adoption should not be an obscure listing among a litany of unknown holidays. Human Rights Day should not be a dry affair, left to stodgy diplomats in ill-fitting suits. 

The declaration is the most translated document in the world and the basis for multiple constitutions. It has ignited political, legal, and moral action across the globe. The pleas and yearnings for justice that all people experience are enunciated in plain language that anyone, even a politician, can understand. Freedom from fear, freedom from want! Freedom of speech and of belief.

To understand why Human Rights Day is a day of rebellion, one need only to read the latest headlines. The declaration’s third article:  “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  The declaration’s seventh article: “All are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection.”  We do not need to look very hard to see those struggling for even these basic rights.  In many places today, to voice the demands of this declaration are to invite detention, torture, and worse.  To shout, “No!” to oppressors and aggressors is nothing short of revolutionary. 

The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross are closely related to and in support of the rights protected in the Declaration. As a movement, the Red Cross also demands that the rights of soldiers, prisoners, and civilians are protected during times of war.  However, we are not a political organization. 

We exist to remind the world of their obligations to humanity and help them serve those affected by war and disaster.  Until the governments of the world fully implement these articles, we stand ready to reconnect families, provide assistance to the wounded, vaccinate children, and stop epidemics. All in the name of alleviating human suffering. 

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

One of the declaration’s key architects was Eleanor Roosevelt, known for her famous husband as well as her work promoting the rights of African Americans, refugees, and other people marginalized by society.  She knew that the Declaration was not binding and would be difficult to enforce.  She expected a battle from those who would oppose the protection of human dignity for all people.  Why did she, and many others, fight so hard to create what was at the time simply a moral statement?  Because they knew it was just the opening salvo. They knew the Declaration was the first protest, the composition of a chant that would be sung and shouted by millions to come, until every last enumerated right is respected.  Human Rights Day isn’t just a commemoration of a diplomatic achievement; it’s the anniversary of a rebellion. 

“Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places close to home.  Unless they have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” – Eleanor Roosevelt