This World Refugee Day, New York City native Christopher Swain will swim two miles from the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan Island in New York’s polluted Hudson River to call attention to the needs of the 65.6 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from home by war and persecution.
Christopher is not a stranger to swimming in dirty waters. In fact, as the first person in history to swim the entire lengths of the Columbia, Hudson, Mohawk, Charles, and Mystic Rivers, he’s stroked through pesticides, sewage, and even nuclear waste. These feats have drawn the public spotlight to threatened waterways and the importance of protection, restoration, and education efforts to support clean water.
Christopher uses swimming as a unique form of advocacy. Some people march or send letters; he swims. So, on World Refugee Day, he’s swimming to raise awareness of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Every day, refugees around the world undertake arduous journeys over land and sea in search of safety for themselves and their families. Horrifying reports from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimate that 1,854 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone while in search of safety.
We cannot let the world’s refugee crisis be ignored. Each of us are called to action to advocate for the planet’s most vulnerable however we can – whether it be through contacting our Members of Congress, donating, volunteering, or even swimming.
Importantly, we must also remember that the story of sacrifice for a better life is one that many Americans share in personal ancestries. Christopher himself is descended in part from Irish refugees who fled to the United States during the Great Famine in the 19th century.
After the two-mile swim, Christopher will walk four miles to the UN Headquarters in New York City. Another objective of his journey is to highlight the vital mission of UNHCR, which is dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights, and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people.
You can follow along as Christopher swims and walks on World Refugee Day by using #USAforUN and #WithRefugees on social media. Be sure to follow the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for on-the-ground (or in-the-water) updates, too!
Please consider sponsoring Christopher’s journey at unausa.org/withrefugees. All funds raised through this event will be directly contributed to the Adopt-A-Future initiative, a program co-sponsored by UNA-USA and USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s fundraising arm, that supports education for children in Kenyan refugee camps. Thanks to philanthropic partners, all funds raised will be matched, doubling the impact of your gift.
We’re so grateful your support and hope that as you watch Christopher swim next to the Statue of Liberty on World Refugee Day, you join us in remembering the words engrained on its plaque:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”