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World Refugee Day: Celebration, Causes, and Campaigns

What is World Refugee Day? 

World Refugee Day occurs every 20th of June. This occasion is an international day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness about refugees' worldwide struggles. The celebration also aims to honor their courage, resilience, and contributions to their host communities.

The United Nations, through the UN Refugee Agency, leads the celebration. This particular day showcases the incredible stories of young refugees and refugee families who left their homes to escape conflict, violence, and persecution.

Featured in: June - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.

History of World Refugee Day

world refugee day mosaic
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The origins of World Refugee Day (sometimes also referred to as International Refugee Day) can be traced back to the 1951 Convention that addressed the needs and rights of refugees in the aftermath of World War II. Due to the war's devastation, this convention was a significant milestone in the international effort to protect displaced and stateless refugees. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the primary refugee agency, was established in January 1951.

However, on December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly, through Resolution 55/76, established the official World Refugee Day4. The organization chose June 20th to coincide with Africa Refugee Day, which has been celebrated annually in several African countries since 2000.

By promoting and hosting World Refugee Day events, the UN sought to foster international solidarity with refugees while urging communities and governments worldwide to protect and support refugees.

Summary of the International Refugee Law

family in refugee camps
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The Refugee Convention, formally known as the 1951 Convention, is a United Nations treaty. It outlines the rights and protections afforded to displaced people, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDP), and stateless individuals. The convention and its 1967 Protocol form the cornerstone of international refugee law, which is summarized below:

  • Definition of a Refugee: The Refugee Convention defines who qualifies as a refugee and lays out the rights and protections those with refugee status are entitled to. 
  • Non-Refoulement Principle: This principle prohibits the return of refugees to a country where they may face persecution. It means governments cannot expel or return refugees to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.
  • Right to Asylum: The Refugee Convention enshrines the right to seek asylum. It obliges signatory countries to provide access to asylum procedures for individuals seeking protection and fleeing conflict. 
  • Equal Treatment: The Convention guarantees equal treatment to refugees, particularly young refugees, in various aspects similar to nationals.
  • Freedom of Movement: Refugees have the right to move freely within the country's territory that has granted them asylum. 
  • Access to Work: The Convention promotes the right of refugees to gainful employment. It encourages governments to allow them to work and support themselves, subject to certain limitations.
  • Family Reunification: The Convention recognizes the importance of family unity and allows refugee families to reunite in the host country.
  • Stateless Persons: The Convention also includes provisions for protecting stateless persons who fall under the refugee definition.

What is the significance of World Refugee Day?

happy refugee day
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World Refugee Day holds significant importance for displaced people and even for the countries hosting these individuals. Here are some refugee statistics and studies that highlight the significance of the international celebration:

  • According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of 2022, 108.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 35.3 million refugees. 40% are refugee youth under the age of 18. 
  • The majority of refugees come from regions experiencing protracted conflicts and instability. For instance, the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has resulted in over 6.9 million Syrian refugees seeking safety in neighboring countries and beyond. Similarly, the crisis in South Sudan has caused more than 2.2 million people to flee their homes. And as of July 2023, records show that there are more than 6.2 million Ukrainian refugees.
  • The refugee crisis disproportionately affects children, who are often the most vulnerable. According to UNICEF, more than 41% of the world’s refugees in 2022 are children. They face a higher risk of abuse, exploitation, malnutrition, and lack of access to education and healthcare.
  • Refugees often experience traumatic events and loss, leading to mental health issues. A study published in The Lancet found that refugees are at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders1. They could have depression and PTSD due to their experiences before, during, and after displacement.
  • Finally, the presence of refugees can impact host communities economically, socially, and culturally. However, studies have shown that refugees can contribute positively to the local economy and cultural diversity3 when appropriately supported.

By celebrating World Refugee Day, we become aware of the growing concerns of refugees and the benefits of refugee resettlement. It also encourages mobilizing political will and resources to address these issues and develop practical solutions.

What is the message of World Refugee Day?

With the official tagline “Hope Away From Home,” the 2023 World Refugee Day focuses on coming up with solutions that will benefit refugees and highlight the importance of including them in society.

Supporting refugees through inclusion is the most effective way to help them restart their lives and contribute positively to their host countries as they seek safety away from war and persecution. Furthermore, it also prepares them to safely and voluntarily return home to rebuild their countries or thrive in a new country upon resettlement.

How to get involved with the cause

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The best way to honor refugees is by actively involving ourselves. Each person can make a significant impact. Here are some practical ways to support the cause and build empathy wherever you are:

  1. Volunteer: Seek out local or international organizations working with refugees and offer your time and skills as a volunteer2. Many NGOs (headed by the UNHCR) and community groups run programs that provide assistance, education, and support to refugees while welcoming refugees into local communities.
  2. Donate: Contribute to reputable organizations that provide humanitarian aid and support to refugees. 
  3. Spread awareness: Use your social media platforms and personal networks to share refugee issues. Utilize the official World Refugee Day hashtag on social media platforms (e.g., #WorldRefugeeDay, #WithRefugees, and #RefugeeDay) to help spark conversations and encourage others to participate.
  4. Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about the root causes of displacement, the experiences of refugees, and the challenges they encounter. 
  5. Host or Attend Events: Organize or participate in events, webinars, workshops, or film screenings focused on refugee stories and experiences. 
  6. Support Refugee-Owned Businesses: Seek out refugee-owned businesses in your community or online and support them by purchasing their products or services. This can empower refugees to become economically self-reliant.
  7. Advocate for Policy Change: Encourage governments to adopt more refugee-friendly laws.
  8. Join Fundraising Campaigns: Participate in fundraising campaigns organized by NGOs or community groups to support refugee programs and initiatives.
  9. Engage in Cultural Exchange: Celebrate the diversity and cultural richness that refugees bring to their host communities. 
  10. Be Welcoming: Finally, small gestures of kindness to refugees and immigrants can make a significant difference in making them feel valued and accepted.

Conclusion

World Refugee Day isn’t simply a day where we acknowledge the hardships endured by millions of forcibly displaced people. It's a powerful tribute to the relentless hope and resilience they display in the face of adversity. 

Every June 20 is an opportunity to foster acceptance and empathy as we honor refugees. And you have that opportunity daily! Remember that even small acts of kindness can positively impact the lives of refugees. 

World Refugee Day FAQs

1. What is World Refugee Day?

World Refugee Day, every June 20th, is a UN international observance that acknowledges the struggles and resilience of millions of refugees around the globe.

2. Why is World Refugee Day important?

World Refugee Day holds immense significance as it brings the hardships and resilience of refugees to the forefront. It's a day encouraging global understanding and compassion, and it urges us to unite and rally to improve refugees' conditions and respect their rights.

3. How many refugees are there globally?

At the close of 2022, per the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports, there were over 108.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and 35.3 million of them were refugees.

4. What are the leading causes of displacement?

Armed conflicts, ethnic or religious persecution, violence, human rights abuses, and natural calamities primarily displace people. These factors force individuals to leave their homes in search of safety elsewhere.

5. How can I support refugees on World Refugee Day?

You can consider making financial contributions to trustworthy relief organizations working for refugees and volunteering your resources and skills in local programs. Furthermore, you can voice support for refugee rights on social platforms and work toward fostering an inclusive environment around you.

1

Henkelmann, J., De Best, S., Deckers, C., Jensen, K., Shahab, M., Elzinga, B. M., & Molendijk, M. L. (2020). Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in refugees resettling in high-income countries: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry Open, 6(4).

2

McAllum, K. (2017). Committing to refugee resettlement volunteering: Attaching, detaching and displacing organizational ties. Human Relations, 71(7), 951–972.

3

Kreibaum, M. (2016). Their suffering, our burden? How Congolese refugees affect the Ugandan population. World Development, 78, 262–287.

4

General Assembly resolution 55/76, Fiftieth anniversary of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Refugee Day, A/RES/55/76 (04 December 2000), available from https://undocs.org/A/RES/55/76.

By Chinny Verana, BSc.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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