Refugee Youth Symposium: 2nd June 2019

In June, Dan and I were fortunate enough to attend an event in Tokyo, held by World Vision Japan. The focus of the event was looking at the global refugee situation and how individuals, specifically the youth, can get more involved in spreading awareness of refugee issues.

The most significant take aways from the conversation I took with me, was the importance of sharing ideas, learning, and spreading as much kindness as possible. The event was attended by some current Rotary Peace Fellows from International Christian University (ICU), and one of the speakers, Seme Nelson, is also a fellow at ICU. He shared his experience as a refugee of the conflict in South Sudan. Seme spent some of his formative years, from 1992-1997, living in a refugee camp in Uganda. His message at the event was clear; be kind, everyday, to as many people as possible. It’s a powerful mantra.

At the event we also learnt about the open door policy towards refugees that Uganda has. Ambassador of Uganda to Japan, Dr. Grace Akech, spoke about the Ugandan policy and approach towards refugees, as well as some of the challenges Uganda faces. She highlighted the history of her home country, and how many Ugandans have experienced being refugees themselves. Consequently, Uganda has a  meaningful policy of supporting refugees to access legal and social rights. Refugee issues are considered as significant as Ugandan nationals’ issues.

Dr. Akech highlighted the challenges of this open door policy too, including environmental degradation due to deforestation for fuel and the sensitive issue of land acquisition. One issue that really struck me is the politicisation of the refugee issue. Some nations have claimed that Uganda has an open door policy towards refugees for their own political gains. This in turn fuels diplomatic challenges, not least with Uganda struggling to recoup the financial aid committed to the refugee crisis in the Refugees Solidarity Summit in June 2017 of which $358 million is still outstanding. Dr.  Akech wanted to make it clear; the global refugee crisis is not a political crisis, it is a humanitarian one. This is about people, not politics.

It was an important event for us to attend and it really opened our eyes to refugee issues. It was humbling to see images of refugee students studying with a jerry can supporting a tiny blackboard, and a classroom that was situated under a tree. But that is how important education is; even without a classroom, having fled from conflict, perhaps leaving their families behind, students still turn up to the tree to study everyday.

Thanks for World Vision Japan and Seme for a wonderful event.

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