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Lifeline for refugees

By John Ehiguese

As the world commemorates World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017, global attention is focused on the plight of the 65.3 million refugees worldwide. Men, women and children who have been forced by conflict, persecution and economic hardship to flee their homes to  live under harsh conditions within and outside their own countries.

The refugee crisis has been widespread. From Africa to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it has been a continuous story of human displacements and migrations on a massive scale, putting a heavy burden on resources and social structures of  host communities and countries.

Moved by this situation, former US President, Barack Obama, June, last year, launched the White House Call To Action on refugees. The Call to Action was an appeal to corporate America to generate new commitments for refugees globally in the three “impact areas” of education, employment and enablement.

Western Union, one of the 15 founding companies in the  Call to Action and one of the first Fortune 500 companies to publicly pledge support through a comprehensive three-year plan on the impact areas. As part of this plan, Western Union pledged to use its cross-border platform to enable refugees participate more in the global economy.

The Union Foundation contributions total US$1.24M over three years to support refugee education through a partnership with Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI). WPDI is the brainchild of Hollywood star, Forest Whitaker.

Underpinned by the recognition that the refugee crisis is global and support efforts must also be global, not necessarily focusing on Syria, alone, Western Union will support WPDI to create a blueprint to move their existing model of education and peace-building for refugees and internally displaced persons to a new location in Africa over three years.

The first project under WUF-WPDI partnership is the funding and opening of an education center to empower refugees in Uganda. The mission of this partnership is simple:   education is a life-changing tool for the world’s refugees.

On May 2, 2017, Whitaker and Jean-Claude Farah, Western Union’s President for Global Payments, visited a refugee camp in Kiryandongo, Uganda. About 70,000 people took refuge in the camp, fleeing from conflicts in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other countries. There, the WU Foundation is helping WPDI to set up a community center and sports field, as well as facilities that will be used for training in conflict resolution, ICT business, sports and cultural skills. The training is aimed at empowering young men and women to set up micro businesses and other income generating projects in the area.

The day had started earlier with WPDI CEO, Forest Whitaker, launching a new chapter of the Youth Peacemaker Network, where 30 young men and women from the Gulu district were to be trained in peace building, mediation, life skills, information and communication technologies and entrepreneurship. They would in turn train others in their communities.

Farah had said: “Even though we are only at the start of a three-year funding commitment to WPDI, it is humbling and powerful at the same time to see how many people are already benefiting from our work together. For people who have lost homes, possessions and loved ones, we are providing a fresh start, and importantly, giving them the confidence that once again they have choices in life – choices that can transform themselves and those around them”.

Statistics from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) shows that 42,500 people are forcibly displaced daily worldwide – fleeing their homes to seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their home countries, or in other countries. The civil war in Syria represents the worst humanitarian crisis of our lifetime, with 86% of refugees being hosted by developing countries, and 51% of them below the age of 18.

The World Refugee Day, held on June 20, every year, has been set aside by the United Nations to highlight the obstacles that refugees face across the world, as well as to celebrate their courage and strength. Since 2001 more than 100 countries have observed the Day worldwide.

•Ehiguese lives in Lagos



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