An Overview of the Refugee Crisis

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gives an overview of the refugee crisis in 2016.
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At a Glance



English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • History
  • Human & Civil Rights

As I know you've probably learned in your classrooms, more than 60 million people are displaced in 2016. That's more than at any time since the Second World War. Which, when I was your age, I used to read about the Second World War and think, nothing can ever be as bad as that, and nothing can ever cause as much suffering as that.

But today, while we don't have any big world war, there's so many conflicts in so many different places. And what has happened is, wars have always been with us. There have always been people trying to end wars. What's happening today is that wars are lasting much, much longer than they used to over the course of the 20th century.

And so as a result, people are displaced not just for three years, where then they get to go back and rebuild their homes and send their kids back to school, but they're displaced for 10, 15 years. And when you have a conflict like that in Syria, which is arguably the most heartbreaking and devastating of our time, most of the people who've been displaced from Syria don't look at what's happening inside Syria and think, I'm going to go back soon.

And so they don't know what to do. Imagine being a family in that kind of circumstance. You don't think you're going to go back soon, but you're not feeling especially welcome in the place that you've landed.

One of the most inspiring encounters I had came early in my tenure as US ambassador to the United Nations. I went to the Turkish border, where now today there are 2.6 million Syrian refugees who are gathered. And I met with a family that had three kids. And the little boy in the family, who at that time was about 10 years old, just started talking to me about how much he missed school.

And again, as the mother of two kids, what I wouldn't do to have my kids love school, and when they're not in school miss school like this boy did. But he just described what it used to be like being able to go to a library like this one in Syria, get books out of the library, be able to read, be able to focus on his mathematics. That was his favorite subject. And as he remembered all of his memories of school, he just started sobbing.

I'm looking at this 10-year-old boy. And all he wants to do is be in a place like this. And yet he can't. There's no school where he is because he's living out of a suitcase. And he doesn't have, at this point, a realistic prospect for going home.

That was three years ago. I think about this boy all the time. And I wonder, is he getting access to books? Has he learned Turkish? Because he only spoke Arabic at that time. Has he learned any Turkish such that he'd be able to read books in the neighborhood he's in?

How to Cite This Video

Facing History & Ourselves, “An Overview of the Refugee Crisis,” video, last updated April 6, 2022.

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