Filipino Journalist Atom Araullo Is Now A UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
Earlier this week, a simple informal twofold ceremony was hosted by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): one purpose was to officially confer the title of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador on Filipino broadcast journalist Atom Araullo; and secondly, to launch the 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety (every step counts) campaign. With this conferment, Atom joins the likes of movie celebrities Cate Blanchett, Kristin Davis, & Ben Stiller, authors Khaled Hosseini & Neil Gaiman, all of whom are on the current roster of UNHCR Global Goodwill Ambassadors. Angelina Jolie, thanks to her years of dedicated and distinguished service as Goodwill Ambassador, was given an expanded role as Special Envoy.
For those not clear about the work of the UNHCR, it’s mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues worldwide. Whether because of war, persecution, violence, or even natural disasters, the UNHCR delivers life-saving assistance, safeguards fundamental human rights, and ensures that those forcibly displaced will settle in communities in dignity and safety. The mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to whom it describes as other “persons of concern;" including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and stateless persons. In the Philippines, UNHCR has been operating for over 30 years now.
In fact, in Mindanao, the UNHCR co-chairs the Protection Cluster in Mindanao, along with our Department of Social Welfare and Development. We’ve been party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; and in May 2011, we were the first Southeast Asian to ratify the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
Had the opportunity to speak to Shinji Kubo, the UNHCR Representative to the Philippines, and he was more than enthusiastic about welcoming Atom to the fold. As Atom first supported the UNHCR in 2017, committing his voice and platform to advocate for the refugee cause. He joined protection monitoring activities in evacuation centers in and out of Marawi City during the five month conflict that saw the displacement of more than 350,000 persons at its peak.
That same year of 2017, for his first documentary for his TV show, Atom travelled to Bangladesh to draw attention to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, and he highlighted the work of the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar. In 2018, Atom targeted the Syrian refugee crisis, traveling to Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan, and showcasing the life-saving assistance and protection the UNHCR was providing to families in Jordan.
As Shinji was proud to relay, “I have witnessed personally Atom’s commitment to the world’s refugees and his extraordinary capacity to talk about the complicated issue of displacement in a manner that is clear, passionate, and convincing. I am confident that Atom’s new role as UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador will further enrich UNHCR’s protection work on behalf of 68.5 million people who are forcibly displaced worldwide.”
As for the 2 Billion Kilometers to Safety campaign, it’s a collective effort that promotes volunteerism, hoping to build better understanding of refugees and raise money to protect them and help them rebuild their lives. The challenge is to cover 2 Billion Kilometers in 12 months, replicating what refugees worldwide have to do each year to reach the nearest point of safety. From South Sudan to Uganda, from Myanmar to Bangladesh, from Syria to Jordan, refugees endure long, dangerous, and difficult treks to reach safety.
Participants can use fitness apps to add their Kilometers to the global total, and even seek sponsorship to raise funds for UNHCR. The hope is to globally raise USD 15 million; and if that amount seems staggering, or you need a more concrete example of how donations save lives, understand this:
- PHP 1,000/month can provide emergency water to around 25 refugees who have just reached safety and protection, and know that their journeys, even for the young and very old, are often punishing ones, without access to good food or clean water.
- PHP 3,000 provides a tarpaulin to help make a weatherproof emergency shelter, vital for protecting people’s personal security, privacy and well-being.
- PHP 5,000 can provide a refugee with emergency counseling and psychological support; oftentimes, these refugees arrive needing medical care, and several are carrying the silent effects of sexual assaults and violent attacks.
- PHP 5,000 can treat up to 40 children ill with diarrhea from drinking unsafe water while living in displacement. For children forced to flee their homes, access to healthy food and safe drinking water can be nearly impossible.
So yes, the campaign may be a virtual walk or run, but it translates to very real solutions and helping ease the anguish, pain, and trauma of these refugees.