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World Refugee Day: Protecting Children Whose Only Home Is Hope

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"later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere."

As I flew home from Jordan earlier this year, I tried to digest all of the stories I had just heard: Families of Syrian refugees telling me of their ornate houses back home, now destroyed; of their extended families all living together, many of those family members now dead; of being forced to flee everything that they knew within a matter of minutes, even seconds.

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It was hard to comprehend. Not because it was the first time I have heard such painful stories, but because I have, in fact, heard them too many times before.

The plight of refugees is not new, but unfortunately the scale at which the current crisis has escalated is unprecedented. Indeed, those moving words by Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire almost seem true: We are hurting everywhere.

To compound the tragedy of lost and uprooted lives, of children traumatized by violence and fighting, is the fact that many of these children are now caught in a cycle of crisis.

By the end of 2015, more than 65 million people, including children and their families have been forcibly displaced from their homes by war, violence, persecution or natural disasters. That is 24 persons displaced every minute. Just over half of all refugees were children under the age of 18. Together, these more than 65 million people would make up the 21st largest country in the world.

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Today, one in every 113 people around the world are now either a refugee, internally displaced within their own country, or seeking asylum.

To compound the tragedy of lost and uprooted lives, of children traumatized by violence and fighting, is the fact that many of these children are now caught in a cycle of crisis. Unable to go to school, they miss the chance to acquire vital skills for the future. Their prospects for a good job and a healthy future get shot down just like their homes around them.

And for all of this, why? Simply because they happened to be born in a country facing conflict, political or economic instability, affected by climate-change or prone to natural disasters.

We must continue to provide support to education initiatives, ensuring the future of an entire generation is not lost.


But all children everywhere have the same rights: the right to be protected from violence, the right to learn and play, the right to nutritious food and medical attention. Right now, through no fault of their own, tens of millions of children on the move are at risk of not seeing these rights realized.

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Canada has shown strong engagement and demonstrated leadership in responding to some of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies. In response to the crisis in Syria and beyond, individual Canadians and the Government of Canada have demonstrated tremendous compassion, supporting organizations like UNICEF that are enabling thousands of dedicated people to implement life-saving solutions for refugees who need it most. Psychosocial support, safe spaces to play, learning materials and vaccinations - these are just some of the things we are doing to provide a sense of normalcy to children caught in these horrendous and extreme situations.

But we must do more. We must continue to provide support to education initiatives, ensuring the future of an entire generation is not lost. We must encourage all governments to provide refugee children with the same care, services, dignity and protection as all other children. And, we must call on all parties to conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and their obligations to protect children under all circumstances.

It's time to work to prevent and heal the hurt.

Help give these children a future.

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