The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, could not have captured it better when he said this of refugees, “I’ve met so many who have lost so much. But they never lose their dreams for their children or their desire to better our world. They ask for little in return – only our support in their time of greatest need”. World Refugee Day, June 20, as an international observance day is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.
On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/76 decided that, from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. In this resolution, the General Assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. However, it must be pointed out that African Refugee Day had been formally celebrated in several countries prior to 2000.
The significance of this event is that each year on that date, the United Nations, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and countless civic groups around the world host World Refugee Day activities in order to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, other forms of conflict and persecution.
In the Middle East, where violence has forced and is still forcing thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, the time is now to show that the global public stands with refugees by ending the wars in that region. On September 2016, global leaders had agreed to work towards a Global Compact for refugees in 2018 where all parts of society stand together with refugees and do their fair share instead of leaving individual states to bear the burden of mass forced displacement. Every refugee child has the right to get good quality education. Every refugee family is entitled to somewhere safe to live. Every refugee must be guaranteed a place to work or learn new skills to support their families.
In a world where one in every 113 people have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution and poverty, it’s vital for humanity to demonstrate the global public stands #WithRefugees.
Legally, a refugee is defined as a person who is forced to flee his or her home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of his or her nationality, race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Refugees do not voluntarily choose to migrate but instead do so out of immediate necessity- this could be political, economic or religious. Internationally, it is believed that the current levels of displacement are some of the highest ever recorded. Worldwide, there are 65.3 million people who have been forced out of their homes (with an estimated 34,000 people displaced per day). While the majority of forced migrants remain in their home countries, 21.3 million have been forced to flee and seek refuge in other countries. Over half of these refugees are under the age of 18.
In its approach to solving the refugee problem, the international community has traditionally promoted three durable solutions to displacement situations: voluntary repatriation, integration into the country of first asylum, or resettlement into a third country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a platform put in place by the UN to find the best solution for each displaced person on an individual basis. It is generally responsible for identifying and designating individuals as refugees. It also assists in ensuring the safety and well-being of refugees as they await a placement determination.
But even with this elaborate arrangement, temporary protection for refugees remains a challenge for the international community. Refugees often have to endure life-threatening conditions in order to arrive at their first host country. Once there, they usually live in confined refugee camp sites or in urban settings, sometimes for as long as a decade.
As we encourage the world on this Refugee Day to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees, it is important to look seriously at issues, policies and other causes of the refugee problem. For the public to show support for families forced to flee is humanitarian but more humanitarian is not allowing the problem to exist at all in the first place.
In Africa, conflicts have tended to exacerbate crises created by economic problems – poverty, hunger, joblessness and absence of the good life. What this means is that there are also economic refugees the world must not forget.
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