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June 13, 2013

Celebrities Shine Light on Refugee Dilemma

by Lisa Schlein

One week ahead of World Refugee Day (June 20), the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR is kicking off a campaign to highlight the impact of war on families.   International celebrities are lining up in support of the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes, but harbor dreams of resuming the lives they left behind.  The campaign runs until the end of the year.  

Several celebrity videos that show how warfare can change a family’s future in just one minute.  But, the video does not just send out a message of despair, it holds out the hope of a better life for refugees even in the midst of hardship.  

Chief of Strategic Communications at UNHCR, Leigh Foster, says the aim of the so-called “1 family” campaign is to expose the devastating impact of war on families.  She tells VOA record numbers of people, of families have been fleeing wars in Syria, in Mali, in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We wanted to remind the public that the victims of war are just like you and me.  They are families. They are families of moms and dads and grandparents and not necessarily what we hear about in the media of rebels and combatants and military forces and that sort of thing.  We really wanted to bring it to the human level so everyone can understand who the victims really are," said Foster.

Among the well-known celebrities participating in the campaign are classical singer Barbara Hendricks U.S. Country Superstar group, Lady Antebellum; best selling author of  “The Kite Runner” and former Afghan refugee, Khaled Hosseini; and international supermodel and former refugee from Sudan, Alek Wek.  

The celebrities are sending out messages to sensitize the public to the plight of refugees.  They would like the public to stop thinking of refugees as statistics, and to think of them as individuals.  

Leigh Foster says the campaign is asking the public to contemplate the same heart-wrenching decisions that families have to make when they flee.

“It is basically getting people to take a minute and think about what it would be like if they had to flee and by doing that, we are trying to get the public to contemplate what it is like to leave everything behind and also to really understand who refugees are and why they need our help," said Foster.

Foster says the more than 40 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes are included and counted in this campaign.   She says recent conflicts have forced record numbers of families to leave everything behind.   She says an estimated two families flee from violence or persecution each minute.