In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly decided that from the next year on, the 20th of June would be celebrated annually as ‘World Refugee Day’ – a day dedicated to raising awareness on the situation of refugees throughout the world. The focused theme this year is the impact of war on families – with the campaign tagline ‘One family torn apart by war is too many.’ Today, keeping with the spirit, UNA-GB is celebrating this important occasion and we hope this blog post will help our readers become more aware on the matter.
So let’s start at the very root of the subject. What exactly do we mean when we use the term ‘refugee?’ According to the legal definition, a refugee is a person who is outside his or her country of nationality and is unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. In other words – a refugee is somebody exiled from his or her country for having opinions and beliefs that don’t agree with the authority’s opinions and beliefs. For those of us living stably, it is hard to even contemplate just how radically our lives would change if, without notice, we were forced to leave our homes and possessions behind in order to relocate to an area where we don’t know anyone. Unfortunately, this is the reality of millions of people across the world today.
In early 2012, there were 15.4 million refugees around the world – a staggering statistic. Geographically, the highest number of refugees last year was observed in Pakistan – 4.8 million, with most originating from Afghanistan – a total of 2.7 million refugees. The pie chart to the left reveals how an overwhelming proportion of Afghani refugees eventually land in either Pakistan or Iran. Worldwide, it is estimated that 80 percent of refugees are women and children. According to 2012 data, 48 percent were women, and 46 percent of refugees throughout the world were under the age of 18.
As alarmingly high as they may be, the numbers described above do not tell the complete story of all the people that were forced out of their countries. Due to technical complications in definition, not all nationals exiled from their nations qualify as refugees. The 15.4 million people were only the ones that officially qualified under the ranks of being
a refugee. In total, about 45.2 million were forcibly displaced by the end of 2012. This figure includes the 15.4 million refugees as well as 28.8 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and 937,000 asylum seekers. IDPs are people who have been force to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. Unlike refugees, they have not crossed international borders.
The other category of displaced nationals – asylum seekers – represent the people who are looking to be recognized as a refugee, but have not yet received formal refugee status. These IDPs and asylum seekers do not qualify legally as refugees, so are also not able to receive the same legal protections or rights. Clearly, there are many technical complications while dealing with refugee statistics and we must be careful of such implications while reading data. Furthermore, because not every displaced person is qualified under the ranks of being a refugee, thousands of people do not receive the help being provided to refugees and end up waiting for official paperwork for long periods of time. In the meantime, they are stranded without a home or belongings.
According to 2011 data, the countries with the most number of IDPs were Colombia (3.8 million), Sudan (2.4 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (1.7 million), Somalia (1.4 million) and Iraq (1.3 million). A total of 895,000 individual applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted to governments and UNHCR offices (more on the UNHCR coming up) offices in 166 countries in 2011. Unfortunately, only roughly 11 percent of these requests were fulfilled. What happens to the rest of these people who were not granted refugee status?
Still, 2011 saw a significant number of people seeking asylum or refugee status from countries experiencing recent/ongoing conflict or security concerns. Research has shown that the developing countries of the world host around 80 percent of the world’s refugees.
While delving deep into the technicalities and statistics can be disheartening, we must recognize that there are multiple organizations throughout the world that continue to work towards providing necessary help-to displaced people – the most notable one being the UNHCR – The UN Refuge Agency. At the request of national governments or the UN itself, UNHCR assists people in voluntary repatriation (the process of returning a person back to one’s place of origin), local integration, or resettlement to a third country. It’s headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNHCR has been recognized multiple times for its work with refugees throughout the world, and has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in 1954 and again in 1981.
Along with its work in assisting refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs in attaining their needs, UNHCR also works actively in research and statistical analysis. It produces detailed and highly sophisticated research data every year in order to bring more light into the matter of issues pertaining to displaced people. A thorough and comprehensive statistical account of the status of refugees today categorized according to the geography of world by following this link here. The UNHCR also continues its work in raising public awareness on the matter. Several new programs have recently been introduced to support and to heighten awareness of the issues faced by refugees around the world. Two of these programs are products of the benchmarks set out by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
So now that you are more informed about the displaced people of the world and their current status – one question still remains. What can you do to celebrate World Refugee Day? Here are a couple of suggestions from the UNA-GB team:
- Spread The Word!
The idea behind dedicating a day of the year to this particular issue is primary raising awareness. So do some research, form potential ideas and discuss! Over a cup of coffee, by the water cooler at work or through a Facebook status – just spread the word!
Try to experience and share the experience what it is like to be a refugee, in game form. Play “Against All Odds”, a computer game created by UNHCR and experience what it is like to flee your home, cross into a new country and start a new life.
- Read articles, watch videos and inform yourself.
Again, the primary idea behind World Refugee Day is informing oneself as well as others on the matter. There are multiple organizations (of course, including UNHCR) that produce informative videos and release them online. Here is one of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie discussing the 2011 World Refugee Day. The first step toward change is knowledge, after all – so go ahead and educate yourself!
Also, sign up to receive email alerts containing news, events and ways to get involved through UNHCR.
For an immediate impact towards the cause, the best way to go is to make a donation. There are plenty of organizations that can assist in making donations to refugee camps all over the world. The official UNHCR website is currently hosting an urgent appeal donation cause for people displaced due to the Syria Crisis.
- Get to Know Some Refugees if You Can!
There are over 4.8 million displaced nationals throughout the world, there is a good chance you might just find a few around you. Pay them a visit, donate some items that you may not be in need of and have a quick chat – hear their stories first hand. This World Refugee day, step out of your comfort zone and meet some these brave individuals.
Happy World Refugee Day!