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A Word for Wednesday: Refugee

Thursday of this week marks World Refugee Day, established to 'honour the courage and strength of men, women and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.' It also helps to raise awareness of the refugee situation around the world. The day is celebrated on the 20th of June to coincide with the older Africa Refugee Day, a cause that is also widely celebrated.

The term refugee means literally, one who flees in search of refuge. It comes from the French refugié, the past participle of refugier (to take shelter, protect). Originally, the term was synonymous with asylum seeker until the First World War where civilians fleeing Flanders to escape the fighting were known as refugees. This is the first example of the word refugees having today’s meaning, making it etymologically a fairly modern term.

As is often the case, refugee is a word whose intrinsic meaning and implications have developed with society. In this case, a progression the definition has been beneficial to the awareness of the masses. We now have a word whose very definition raises awareness of global situations. There are millions who are left without a home due to war, civil conflict and oppression. The word refugee alone seems a reminder of their courage, their struggle and its injustice.

The UN Refugee Agency created a campaign under the title ‘1’ raising money to provide essentials to refugees and posing the question ‘what would you take if you and your family had just one minute to leave’. The cause aims to provide cooking equipment, bedding and shelter to those who are forced to flee their homes. You can read more and donate over at their webpage.

What would you take?

Hugh MacDermott

19 Jun 2013
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