Solidarity with Refugees: The 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety

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SEATTLE, Washington — In 2018, UNHCR announced the 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety Campaign (also known as the 1 Billion Miles to Safety Campaign) to help generate solidarity with refugees. The campaign asks people to track the distances they run, walk or bike and enter them on the campaign’s website, stepwithrefugees.org. The goal of this campaign is to highlight the great distances refugees travel to get to safety and how difficult such journeys can be.

Based on UNHCR calculations, refugees collectively travel approximately two billion kilometers each year in order to reach safety. However, the burden of traveling affects certain refugee populations more significantly than others. For example, in 2016, Rohingya refugees in Myanmar collectively traveled an estimated 80 kilometers, Syrian refugees traveled more than 240 kilometers and South Sudanese refugees traveled more than 640 kilometers.

Stories from Refugees

On the campaign’s website, UNHCR provides the stories of three different refugee women and their journeys to safety, including the number of miles that each woman had traversed.

  1. In seven days, Opani traveled from South Sudan to Uganda, a distance of 60 miles (96 kilometers), with her young daughter, Brenda. They fled on foot, escaping violence, and were forced to sleep outside, which left them vulnerable to attack. Eating nothing but wild berries, Opani and her daughter walked for days before reaching the UNHCR registration center at the Uganda border.
  2. In 10 days, Alin trekked 64 miles (102 kilometers) from Myanmar to Bangladesh. After her village was attacked in the middle of the night, Alin fled with her family, leaving all of their possessions behind. The journey was difficult, consisting primarily of waterlogged fields, and at times they had to wade through rivers with their children and elderly relatives. Alin’s family relied completely on food people were willing to give them along the way, and some days they went hungry before finally making it to Bangladesh. 
  3. Zeenab traveled 95 miles (153 kilometers) in only four days from Syria to Jordan. Zeenab’s home was destroyed, prompting her and her family to flee. Zeenab recalled, “There were air strikes and dead bodies all around us… I didn’t want my kids to end up like that.” The winter weather made their journey difficult, and they hadn’t been able to bring any blankets with them for the cold nights. Zeenab’s husband had to carry the children most of the way, but after four days of hard travel, they reached Jordan and were moved to a camp on the northern border.

Generating Solidarity

These stories exemplify the hardships that refugees face, particularly when traveling with family members. The distances they travel are unimaginable to most, and emphasizing this fact can help inspire people to demonstrate solidarity with refugees.

Participants in the 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety Campaign come from 27 countries across Africa, Asia, North and Central America, Europe and the Middle East and include individuals committed to the cause, such as celebrity supporters and UNHCR personnel. Distances traveled are logged either on the campaign website or through a fitness app, and all participants’ totals are added together with the goal of reaching 2 billion kilometers collectively by the end of 2019. As of March 17, 2019, 659,789 miles had been added to the campaign.

In addition to showing support, participants can request sponsorship from friends and family members to help raise funds for UNHCR. Campaigns can be created for groups as well, including running communities and sports clubs. The goal is to raise more than $15 million by the end of the campaign for the support of refugees.

Testimonials from People Making a Difference

To emphasize the importance of solidarity with refugees, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements stated, “Every day, we are inspired by the acts of kindness from people who are doing their very best to improve life for refugees. This campaign will encourage people to support refugees through something they are already doing — walking, cycling, running.”

Other UNHCR officials have come forward with their reasoning for taking place in the campaign, including actor and recently appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Ben Stiller. He stated that refugees “are running for their lives, for a safe roof over their heads and a place where they don’t have to live in fear. This is why I’m stepping with refugees and taking part in the 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety campaign.”

Tim Gaynor, the UNHCR web editor, has also shared his story for why he is participating in the campaign and showing solidarity with refugees by hiking the Camino de Santiago in France with his wife. He stated, “After 10-20 miles, our feet ached and our legs burned.” This,” he said, “made us appreciate that we had clean water to drink, food to eat and, of course, a safe, dry place to sleep every night.” This is, unfortunately, not the reality for refugees.

Anyone can join the campaign and raise funds for UNHCR or just demonstrate support for refugees through tracking activities like walking, running and biking. No matter how many miles an individual travels in a year, they can still show solidarity with refugees and help raise awareness about the hardships they face every day.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

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