Five for Friday: World Refugee Day at National Geographic

UNHCR.jpgStriking actress Angelina Jolie and silky-voiced NBC anchor Ann Curry visited National Geographic yesterday to participate in World Refugee Day events, as reported by NatGeo News Watch’s David Braun.

Joining a number of NG employees watching the proceedings via close-circuit television in our cafeteria, I was humbled by the genuine sentiments and stalwart calls to action offered by the two women. The real show-stealer, however, was Rose Mapendo, the 2009 recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year award. Through tears punctuated with an endearing wit, the Tutsi survivor of violence in the Rwanda/Congo African region shared details of her harrowing journey from refugee to international advocate.

Rose-Mapendo-picture.jpgRose Mapendo accepts the Humanitarian of the Year award from UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterrez.

 As she told her story of flight from oppressive forces, captivity, and eventual salvation through international assistance, I reflected on the many geographic aspects associated with refugee crises. Here are five:

1)    Circumstances producing refugees

The circumstances forcing citizens into refugee status frequently have geographic underpinnings. Civil war and government-sponsored brutality often emerge out of conflicts over natural resources (physical geography) and ethnic tensions (cultural geography). In Africa especially, these circumstances are largely the result of post-colonial power dynamics.

2)    International awareness and recognition

The extent to which state governments, international organizations, and members of the public are aware of humanitarian crises and the plight of refugees is contingent upon multiple factors; including governmental transparency, freedom of the press, victims’ access to communications, geopolitics, etc. Increasingly, new technologies are providing deeper insights into conflicts occurring in remote areas of the world. Through Google Earth, for example, international audiences can view satellite images and photographs of events on the ground in places like Darfur.


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