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Queen Noor of Jordan

Queen Noor of Jordan

Posted: June 19, 2009 06:40 PM

Honoring World Refugee Day


For 35 years, my home has been one of the world's major conflict regions, home also to over 10 million refugees and displaced inhabitants. World Refugee Day (June 20) is a time to honor and support these individuals and families who persevere through devastating tragedies.

I have lived and worked with the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees and now nearly 5 million displaced Iraqis, many from each group now making their homes in Jordan. I have also worked with displaced people from Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, and those seeking safe haven during the first Gulf War. I have witnessed first-hand the anguish of those uprooted from their homes -- people who have had their lives threatened, homes bombed, and family members kidnapped or murdered.

The global displacement crisis is both a humanitarian and a security issue. History shows that mass migrations pose a serious threat to regional stability, as we have seen in Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and West Africa. The Middle East is particularly vulnerable as ongoing tensions are further strained by such large scale displacement.

Yet, I have also seen that refugees are a tremendous inspiration. Supporting these vulnerable people not only reduces their suffering, but also brings peace to troubled regions. Despite the pain and trauma they have experienced, refugees and displaced people hold on to the hope that they can someday return home and rebuild their lives. Like all of us, they want to be able to contribute to society, earn incomes, and send their children to school. An investment in refugees is an investment in whole communities and a clear way to promote peace and prosperity.

Over the past few weeks, conflict between the Pakistani government and militants has made world headlines as some two million people have been forced to flee. In December 2001, I traveled to Pakistan with Refugees International and saw refugees pouring over the border from Afghanistan. Today, Pakistanis who seek protection from the current violence have had no alternative but to live in some of the very same camps built for Afghan refugees. Many more are living with families in small, over-crowded homes, struggling to access emergency aid.

Refugees International just returned from Pakistan again this week, where staff members spoke directly with displaced people, aid workers and government officials to ensure that the needs of displaced Pakistanis are not ignored. RI is now steering through the corridors of power providing the most credible information to policy makers on how to resolve this humanitarian crisis.

The world simply must respond more effectively to this crisis than it has to date. The U.S. has been generous, but other governments are lagging and the UN and private agencies are struggling to meet the massive needs. I have taken the initiative to write a letter to the Foreign Ministers of leading Arab and Islamic governments urging them to respond to the need for humanitarian aid to displaced Pakistanis.

Yet, there are also those refugees whose suffering is no longer making frequent headlines. According to the UN, there could be as many as 4.8 million displaced Iraqis, more than half inside Iraq and the rest scattered throughout the region. Many remain reluctant to return home due to continued violence, the creation of ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, and poor government services. Others have tried to return, but found their homes occupied or destroyed.

While we wait for the situation in Iraq to improve, we must continue to help those who cannot go home. We in Jordan have committed ourselves to providing aid and support to this population. The Noor Al Hussein Foundation, which I chair, is providing health care, rehabilitation services, and psycho-social counseling to thousands of Iraqis in Jordan through our Institute for Family Health. We have also expanded the Foundation's services to provide training to Iraqi youth in home business management and livelihood skills. This encourages entrepreneurship and strengthens their potential to earn incomes. These efforts are a small contribution to addressing the challenges these Iraqi families face while waiting to return home, but there is much yet to be done.

Refugees International continues to lead the call to support Iraqi refugees, as well as millions more displaced people fleeing the world's worst crises. The organization's 30 years of experience has contributed to peace and stability and improved the lives of displaced people in countries like Jordan, Iraq and Pakistan. On World Refugee Day, we should reflect on those we have helped. But we must also focus our gaze on how much more is needed to end the vicious cycle of violence and intolerance, and support a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Her Majesty Queen Noor has been a member of Refugees International's Board of Directors since 2001.