The United Nations General Assembly has designated June 20 as World Refugee Day. This day is set aside in order to remember the massive numbers of people who are forcibly removed from their homes everyday.
That the treatment of refugees remains a pervasive and urgent humans rights issue is reflected in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remark from 2014:
Around the world, conflict has forced a record number of people to flee their homes. More than 50 million people are currently displaced by war and violence, some 33.3 million in their own country and some 16.7 million as refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries. Last year alone, more than 10 million people were newly displaced; every 15 minutes, one family was forced into flight.
Most of the world’s refugees –86 per cent — live in the developing world, compared to 70 per cent 10 years ago. Most of these countries have kept their doors open to people in search of safety, and have shown a generosity that is often well beyond their means. I appeal to all Member States and our partners in civil society to do their utmost to support the nations and communities that have welcomed the forcibly displaced into their midst.
These rising numbers are a stark reminder of the international community’s inability to overcome its divisions to prevent and end conflicts. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and its partners continue to provide lifesaving assistance: water and sanitation, food and shelter, education and protection services. But a humanitarian response alone is not enough. Political solutions are urgently needed.
In response to the needs of refugees in the aftermath of World War II, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. This agency was mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Today it still strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily (the preferred option), integrate locally, or resettle in third country.
UNHCR’s mandate distinguishes it from other humanitarian actors because it is required to provide international protection to refugees who do not enjoy the protection of their governments. As part of their work, the agency helps build clinics, schools, and water wells for shelter inhabitants and gives them access to health care and psychosocial support during their exile. UNHCR also coordinates family reunification activities and demobilization, disarmament and integration programs for children associated with armed forces.
People are forcibly displaced for numerous reasons, including to escape war, persecution, or terror. Since the circumstances under which forcible eviction occurs can be diverse, there are several terms used in order to capture more precisely the various forms these circumstances can take. A refugee is someone who flees his or her home country, owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” An asylum seeker, refers to someone having fled their home. These people may claim refugee status, but their claim to this status is not yet definitely evaluated in the country to which they have fled. An Internally Displaced Person (IDP) are those who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their country. Stateless persons are those who do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country. Statelessness is usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Lack of identification—a citizenship certificate—can result in exclusion from important governmental services. Finally, there are returnees. These are people who, formerly refugees, seek to return to their own countries or regions of origins after time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives.
Please take a moment to explore some of the links below.
A series of 30-second videos supporting refugees by over 20 celebrities from around the world.
A summary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. These are the only extant global legal instruments which explicitly cover the most important aspects of a refugee’s life.
A copy of the remarks by President of the General Assembly on the 2014 World Refugee Day.
A list of key UN documents regarding refugees.
Further resources on the UN and refugees.