The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the huge distances refugees are forced to cover each year as they flee conflicts and persecution.

The '2 Billion Kilometres to Safety' campaign calls on people across the globe to join in collectively covering the approximate distance covered by refugees every year - some two billion kilometres - to reach safety. 

Refugees campaign

Rohingya refugees cross the border from Myanmar near Anzuman Para village. Bangladesh, in October, 2017.  PICTURE: © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

UNHCR data shows that in 2016, for example, Syria refugees individually travelled more than 240 kilometres to reach Turkey, South Sudanese more than 640 kilometres to reach Kenya and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar about 80 kilometres to reach Bangladesh.

People are invited to take part in the campaign by running, walking or cycling and then using a fitness app - Fitbit or Strava - to add their contribution to the culmulative total. It can also be manually added at the campaign website, www.stepwithrefugees.com.

Kelly T Clements, UNHCR deputy high commissioner, said the campaign was aimed at encouraging people to support refugees through something they are already doing.

“At a time when we are facing so many misconceptions about refugees, it is vital that we remind ourselves of the real and dangerous journeys they are forced to take.”

UNHCR hopes to raise more than $US15 million to support refugees with registration and reception services, food and water, shelter, basic aid, healthcare and psychological support.

Actor Ben Stiller, a UNHCR goodwill ambassasor, is among those taking part.

“Families forced to flee violence and persecution make extraordinary efforts to survive,” he said. “They are running for their lives, for a safe roof over their heads and a place where they don’t have to live in fear. This is why I’m stepping with refugees and taking part in the '2 Billion Kilometres to Safety' campaign. And I’m asking everyone to join me.”

Visit www.stepwithrefugees.com to join the campaign.