Our world continues to be challenged by conflict and the consequential flow of peoples across the world. A broken assurance of a more humane world and a band-aid on bullet wounds is what an estimated 22.5 million refugees have received. In an ever-increasing world of warships and out-of-hand climate change, this global crisis will only become more protracted and complex.
The world has, for decades, witnessed the movement of refugees and migrants on arriving on boats. Who are these people and why do they risk their lives, undertaking journeys that can result in their death?
A refugee is a person who is forced to flee their country or move to safety within their countries because of violence, war, persecution, and climate change. These people are forced to leave their countries of birth as their fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. They cannot return home or are scared to do so.
War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries and homes. More than two-thirds of all refugees from the whole world come from just five countries namely Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia.
The word refugee comes from refuge which means “the state of being sheltered from pursuit, danger or difficulty.” The global definition of refugees was recognized in the Geneva Convention. Every year the World Refugee Day is observed on June 20, and is dedicated to raising awareness on the situation of refugees and soliciting support throughout the world.
The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) is a UN Refugee Agency that every year organizes various events on World Refugee Day where refugees share their personal experiences on their refuge or asylum. On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly, in Resolution 55/76, had decided to mark June 20 as the day to celebrate refugees. In 2001, it became an annual event and the celebration was marked as the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Refugees status by the United Nations General Assembly.
This day is observed to support millions of families who have left their homes and dear ones because of war or any other reason. This day also provides an opportunity to help the refugees worldwide, to provide quality life through various activities. Several government agencies and organizations also provide a variety of life-saving assistance, safety, and protection. They provide tents, shelter, several life-saving services, and more.
The main aim, however, remains to spread awareness among the people by sharing the experiences of refugees and their stories. It also reminds people about the failures of an international community or home conflicts due to which people are forced to leave their homes. We can’t ignore the fact that UNHCR has taken big steps to support refugees and similarly governments and other private organizations should come together on a national or regional basis to support and help in controlling the condition of refugees.
For this year the theme is Step With Refugees. In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, the moment is now to demonstrate that the global public stands with refugees.
But not every person is forced to flee their country, and some are displaced within their nations. They are called IDPs or internally displaced persons. They are individuals who never cross the international border but move to nearby cities and villages, schools, camps, even jungles, and fields. IDPs, comprised of people displaced by internal conflicts and natural catastrophes, are the main group that UNHCR helps.
Unlike refugees, these men and women are not protected under international law or entitled to be given any type of aid because they are lawfully under the security of their government. Countries with some of the largest internally displaced populations are Colombia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.
Asylum seekers are similar to refugees in their status, but they have not been formally declared as refugees by the country to which they fled. Many struggle through this long asylum application process due to local prejudice, leaving them in appalling living conditions in refugee camps while others end up on the streets.
Stateless persons are commonly discriminated against by certain groups, making them unrecognized as nationality or belonging to a specific country. They do not have identification or citizen certification, excluding them from access to basic human rights, including healthcare, education, employment, and other government services.
Returnees are previous refugees who have returned to their home countries after escaping to safety. Even though this can be a hopeful ending, returnees still need support and reintegration to re-establish their lives at home.
In any case, all categories of refugees need our help. Whether it’s searching for a new home or having access to nutritious food, clean water, and safe spaces, all types of refugees deserve support.
Some migrate for other reasons and not because of a direct threat or persecution but mainly to improve their lives which could include looking for better jobs, seeking better education, or reuniting with their family. Distinct from refugees who cannot securely return, migrants can return home if they desire. This peculiarity is vital for governments as countries handle migrants under their immigration laws and processes.
An imperative part of being documented as a refugee is Refugee Status Determination (RSD), a legal procedure that governments, or UNHCR, employ to establish whether a person looking for international protection is considered a refugee under international, national, or local law. The process can be lengthy, complex, and is undoubtedly unsatisfactory. There is still no single uniting model for this process. States do have the main liability for determining the status of asylum seekers but UNHCR will step in where states are not capable or reluctant.
The number of immigrants worldwide has grown rapidly and a UN International Migration Report in 2017 said that approximately 67% of them reside in just 20 countries. The United States continues to be the most accepted destination for immigrants. Accomplishing the “American Dream” is still the most important factor for many individuals around the world. An improved worth of life, greater than before job opportunities, and financial stability are a few of the main reasons for immigrating to the United States.
Canada resettled the major amount of refugees out of 25 countries in 2018, according to the UN’s refugee agency. The country accepted just over 28,000 refugees, with the United States coming in second with 22,900. Close to 92,400 refugees were resettled internationally in 2018, less than 7% of those pending resettlement globally. These statistics were enclosed in a newly-released UN Refugee Agency report looking into the worldwide refugee trends last year. The US-based Pew Research Center, which looked at the UNHCR data, also stated that 2018 was the first time the US did not show the way in refugee resettlement since 1980.
The United States extends protection to eligible foreign-born nationals by providing a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship through two programs: the refugee resettlement program and asylum program. Once admitted as a refugee, individuals must apply for a Green Card one year after coming to the United States. There is no fee for refugees to file the forms and they do not have to pay anything for fingerprinting/biometrics.
Beyond the legal terminologies, there is a need to shed light on personal stories, on narratives of perilous journeys, on a quest for the search of a better life – the human story.
We need to build relationships of empathy with those escaping the walls of political crisis. The involvement of policymakers is also required to decrease possible negative impact in both the sending and receiving region. Poorly-administered migration is linked with high economic, social, and psychological costs in addition to the human costs.
This World Refugee Day, let us pledge for a more humanitarian, equal, and inclusive response. Let us build a world where lives are respected and everyone free to express their authentic and diverse selves.
June 20 every year is observed as World Refugee Day to refugees, raise awareness about their condition, and gain support for their cause.
The theme for World Refugee Day 2020 is Step With Refugees.
According to the United Nations, the United States has the highest number of immigrants, followed by Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2018
Featured image for representation only.
Featured image source: Getty Images.