Today is World Refugee Day. A poignant moment for us to reflect as the world grapples with the largest displacement of people since the Second World War.
According to the UN, 24 people every minute leave behind all they own and love to escape war, persecution or terror. Despite making up just a third of the world’s population, UNHCR data shows that more than half of these refugees are children.
In Uganda, home to 900,000 fleeing the conflict in South Sudan, they estimate that over 85% are women and children. UNICEF has seen a five-fold increase in the number of young people travelling alone through Europe since 2010.
This is a humanitarian crisis that is not only getting worse, but one that is also taking a disproportionate toll on the lives of young people across the world.
For young refugees, arriving in a new country many miles from their home or loved ones, guiding can often be the only source of friendship and a familiar space in a new community.
As the CEO of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), one of the leading global youth Movements with 10 million members worldwide, I see this terrible, heart breaking story from two sides.
As an organisation working in more than 146 countries, all too frequently I am reminded that conflict and displacement is a daily reality for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in some parts of the world. But I also witness the energy, compassion and hope of young people who tell me repeatedly that they want to see a better, more tolerant world, and they want to play their part in making this happen.
In Syria, under the ever present threat of war, dedicated volunteers and leaders are working tirelessly to run Guiding activities to help give young girls a sense of normality, and safe space for them to play and make friends.
And for young refugees, arriving in a new country many miles from their home or loved ones, guiding can often be the only source of friendship and a familiar space in a new community.
In the Goré refugee camps in Chad, Guiding has become a crucial part of daily life for refugees from Central African Republic, and in IDP camps in Northern Nigeria, Guides provide counselling and emotional support to girls and their families who have had to flee their homes because of Boko Haram.
Our programme on topics including gender-based violence, leadership and body confidence can provide essential skills, tools and opportunities for young people and a way to keep themselves safe.
Joyce Sambo, a 21 year old Guide in Nigeria who has visited the camps with her Guide group aims to support young people and teach them how to protect themselves. She embodies the hope and compassion that our young members display, telling me that she wants to support these young people and bring hope and light to an otherwise dark situation.
While this might feel very far from many people’s idea of Girl Guiding, we have a long history of international solidarity and friendship. During World War II, child refugees joined Guiding groups in their new countries.
In Greece, where the International Rescue Committee
estimate that some 62,000 refugees are currently stranded, Olympia
Tsamasfyra has been educating Girl Guides in Greece about the refugee crisis
and calling for a more tolerant and humane approach.
“I don’t want Greek society to see refugees as a threat. I want them to understand the hardship that refugees, especially girls, endure. As Girl Guides, I want us to work together to help make refugees’ lives more decent.”
So as we think of all those living as refugees today, particularly those young people torn from their homes, many of whom are alone and afraid, we should also remind ourselves of their messages of tolerance, hope and compassion. And let these give us hope that there is a brighter future.