In fleeing persecution and violence, refugees from countries like Syria, Sudan and Myanmar are estimated to cover two billion kilometres on foot every year in search of safety and protection. And while many Canadians have become involved in neighbourhood groups to help resettle newcomers, now there is another way to reconcile our own freedom to run with the plight of refugees covering great distances on foot. As of today, runners can put their kilometres to a humanitarian purpose. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR Canada) has just launched 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety, a virtual solidarity walk/run for refugees.
The campaign allows individuals in 27 countries to track their kilometres via their preferred running app and sync with the campaign’s dedicated website as a way of showing support for the plight of refugees forced to flee their homelands. Runners will also be encouraged to fundraise to support the UNHCR’s humanitarian efforts to assist refugees, just as many do for charity at local races.
Canadians can join as part of their regular training, or sign up and start walking or running by syncing their fitness apps to the program to log their kilometres. All Canadians are encouraged to sign up at stepwithrefugees.ca (English) or marcheraveclesrefugies.ca (French).
The goal is for individuals across the globe to run, walk or ride two billion kilometres, collectively, over the course of 2019, in solidarity with refugees like those that Lauren LaRose, senior fundraising communications associate with UNHCR Canada and a former journalist, met in Jordan in late 2017.
LaRose travelled to the Azraq refugee camp there on her first overseas mission. “I had never witnessed first-hand the hardships of refugees beyond images and stories beamed onto my TV and computer, printed in newspapers, or broadcast over the radio waves,” LaRose writes on the UNHCR website. Among stories of incredible difficulty and resiliency, LaRose was struck by how normal and happy the children seemed, despite the trauma they had experienced.
“Many of the families I met spoke of being forced to leave Syria with only the clothes on their backs—and perhaps a spare set if they were lucky,” she reports.
Upon signing up, participants in 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety will be sent an email inviting them to create their own fundraising page and start soliciting pledges. The organization hopes to raise CDN $20 million to support refugees with basic necessities such as food, shelter and water, registration and reception services, and psychological counselling.