On International Migrant’s Day, 18 December 2016, Elhadj As Sy, IFRC Secretary General, is delivering this message to children around the world, urging them to put aside negative perceptions about people migrating, and instead, to welcome them into their communities, treat them with kindness and understanding, and find inspiration in fellow community members who embrace newcomers, rather than reject them. Please find his abridged video message in English, here. Video messages in Arabic, French and Spanish will be available soon.
My name is Elhadj As Sy. I am the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This Sunday is International Migrants Day. It is an important day when you think about all the people who have left their homes, including people who left because of wars or disasters, because they no longer had food or water, or because they wanted a better life for their families.
You may have heard in the news, or from your family and friends, about the millions of people who have left their homes this year. Many of them took very dangerous journeys across oceans and deserts.
You may have heard these people called all sorts of names: migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, or other names that are not so nice.
You might also have heard news about worried or angry people who don’t want these families to come and live in their communities. Some of the things they said about people migrating might have been frightening or mean, or maybe even racist and cruel. Some of these stories might have made you worried or scared.
Our world can be a really scary place, and it’s ok to be confused or concerned. But I want to tell you something that I think might make you feel better.
These people that you have heard so much about are just people. They are mums and dads, brothers and sisters, grandpas and grandmas. They are teachers, farmers and doctors. A lot of them are kids, just like you.
Many of them didn’t have a choice about leaving their homes. They were scared that, if they stayed, they would get hurt, or that their families might even be killed.
Can you imagine it being so unsafe outside, that you couldn’t go to school anymore, or see your friends? Imagine what your mum and dad would do to make sure that you were safe.
Just like all of us, these people want to be safe and happy, to work and go to school. They want to contribute to new communities, if given the chance. These parents want their kids to grow up to be teachers and doctors too.
We are coming to the end of the year, and it’s a time when many express thanks for the good things in their lives. I think it is also a good time to change how we think and talk about people who are migrating and fleeing, and how we treat them.
For starters, let’s stop using words that make people feel different, and start using words that make people feel like they belong. “Migrant.” “Refugee”. “Immigrant”. These aren’t words that describe who people are. They describe what has happened to them. Words matter! We have all been teased or hurt by mean words.
If you have kids in your community that have recently arrived from another country, treat that kid the way you like to be treated yourself. Be kind, be welcoming, be a friend.
And as the year comes to a close, let’s celebrate the people around the world who help those in need or make them feel at home. These are people who deliver medical care, food, water and shelter during wars and disasters, and they are out on boats rescuing people from drowning. They are in communities like yours, teaching newcomers a new language, mentoring children after school, and helping newly arrived families settle in, find homes and jobs, and rebuild their lives.
Be inspired by these people who open their arms to strangers in need rather than reject them, volunteers who lend a hand to newcomers, as they get back on their feet. These people are heroes, everyday heroes.
Help make your communities stronger by treating people with care and humanity. Help make sure that everyone is treated equally and with dignity, simply, as people. And I’m sure you will.
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