A Letter from Dr. Africa Stewart
In May, just ahead of world refugee day on June 20, the United Nations refugee agency reported that the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes had climbed above 100 million for the first time in recorded history, a figure that’s almost incomprehensible.
When fleeing conflict, persecution, natural disasters, or other extreme situations these people are often exposed to still more risks. In our projects around the world, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams care for displaced people who have experienced assault, sexual violence, kidnapping, extortion, detention, and more, on top of the everyday challenges of life on the move.
We also see the health consequences of policies that criminalize seeking safety. This leaves vulnerable asylum seekers stranded in legal limbo on the dangerous streets of border cities in Mexico. And it forces some people to undertake the treacherous and often deadly journey across the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to reach Europe.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When millions of refugees began fleeing the war in Ukraine in February, they were met with an outpouring of support and solidarity from both governments and civil society in the European Union (EU) and other countries. This unprecedented response shows that humane migration policy is possible—if the political will exists.
At MSF, we believe that every displaced person—no matter who they are or where they’re from—deserves assistance and protection. That’s why nearly 20 percent of our medical humanitarian projects worldwide in 2021 served displaced people. Our teams work along migration routes through Central America to the US-Mexico border; in and around Syria, where more than a decade of brutal conflict has displaced millions; and in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have settled after fleeing targeted violence in Myanmar, to name just a few.
It’s also why we’re dedicating this issue of Alert to sharing some of that work, and the experiences of the people we care for. In these pages you’ll learn about some of the biggest displacement crises unfolding outside the international headlines. You’ll learn more about the deadly double standards of migration policies in the US and EU. And you’ll get a firsthand look at the humanitarian crisis escalating at the US-Mexico border.
Back to those numbers I mentioned at the top. 100 million people displaced from their homes seems like an insurmountable challenge. But it’s only about 1 percent of the world’s population. I find strength in reminding myself it also means that for every one person forced to flee there are 99 others that can do something about it. At MSF I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are challenged by the numbers, who make the most of their expertise and seek out the gifts and talents of others who can help.
I’m so grateful that you’ve chosen to stand with MSF and be one of those 99 helpers for one person who needs it—whoever and wherever they might be.
Dr. Africa Stewart
President, MSF-USA Board of Directors