When a senior U.S. official saw the condition of Burmese and Bangladeshi migrants recently rescued off the coast of Malaysia, she said, “I think I’ve seen some of the best and worst of humanity.”
Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, said many refugees were traumatized after being abandoned at sea by human smugglers and left to die on an overcrowded boat. The rescued refugees then benefited “from the best of mankind,” with “a safe place to recover and a great deal of assistance.”
The United Nations declared June 20 World Refugee Day to commemorate the strength, courage and resilience of the world’s refugees. More than 50 million people are now displaced from their homes, seeking to escape war or human rights abuses.
Richard said that those she met, like all refugees, “were looking for a new start and a more successful life than they had been able to pursue in their home countries.”
“What prompts people to flee their countries and take such a dangerous sea voyage?” she asked. “Can that be avoided in some way if there are better conditions for them at home?”
The United States continues to lead the world in resettling refugees, accepting at least 140,000 over the past two years from all over the world, which is more than all other countries combined, Richard said. Most of those resettled have special needs and vulnerabilities, such as the likelihood that they will face persecution in their home countries.
To mark World Refugee Day, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is featuring several films with global celebrities that show how refugees are ordinary people forced to live in extraordinary circumstances. Learn more about their stories and share them with your friends.