A recent news release from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlights the success of their recent Olympics campaign, Giving is Winning. According to the UN refugee agency and the International Olympics Committee, “more than 82,000 items of sports clothing” have been collected for refugees.  While I applaud the good intentions of the two agencies working together to assist the humanitarian needs of refugee populations throughout the world, there are two important things I would like to point out:


Individual athletes and National Olympic Committees – particularly those from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and host China – donated 30,000 items during the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics…

The items collected before the Olympics opened were distributed to refugees in Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad, Moldova, Georgia and Panama. The latest 30,000 donations will be distributed in Asia.

China being the host nation for the Olympic games and one of the leading countries to donate new clothes for refugees under the Giving is Winning campaign has gone several years without recognizing the plight of North Korean refugees. Currently, China classifies North Korean refugees seeking asylum, many mainly hiding in the Northern provinces, as “economic labors” and not as “refugees.” North Korean refugees fleeing the brutal regime of Kim Jong Il are repatriated if their identities are discovered by Chinese authorities. North Koreans returned to their country after fleeing to China often face persecution, often times being imprisoned or sentence to death. Earlier this year, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants‘ annual World Refugee Survey, classified China as one of ten places designated as worst places for refugees. If the latest 30,000 donations collected by the Giving is Winning campaign are to be distributed to refugees in Asia, does that include North Korean refugees?… Probably not.

One particular paragraph from the UNHCR news release that left a sour taste in my mouth was:


Athletes proved they didn’t have to come from medal powerhouses to be winners for refugees. Donations came in from competitors from Andorra, Armenia, Bermuda, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mauritius and Turkmenistan, as well as much larger countrie.

By referring to donations not coming from “medal powerhouses” is UNHCR attempting to imply that you don’t have to be from a “developed” country in order to donate?  That even the poor have a moral conscience? While their words were chosen carefully, the message that even undeveloped countries (who often aren’t medal powerhouses) also care about refugees, even though they may not have have a lot, it extremely inappropriate in my opinion. All individuals have goodness within them to do the right thing regardless of nationality or economic class.

So, I take back the idea that China doesn’t care about refugees in my August 26 post about the Olympics.  They care about refugees with these donations it seems, just not North Korean refugees and IDPs in Darfur.