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Why Do Refugees Undertake Precarious Journeys?

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World Refugee Day – 20th June 2020

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?

PALONG KHALI, BANGLADESH – OCTOBER 16: An elderly man who collapsed is carried to a medical facility as thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar sit along a muddy rice field after crossing the border near Palang Khali, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Around 536,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since late August during the outbreak of violence in Rakhine state causing a humanitarian crisis in the region with continued challenges for aid agencies. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Who Are Refugees?

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.

History Behind World Refugee Day

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.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – MAY 14: People, who say they belong to the Burmese Rohingya Community from Myanmar, sit in an makeshift tents at a camp on May 14, 2012 in New Delhi, India. Around 2,500 refugees from Myanmar have put up camps at New Delhi’s airport to demand refugee status in New Delhi today after being removed from Vasant Kunj area yesterday. (Photo by Jasjeet Plaha/ Hindustan Times )

The Importance Of World Refugee Day 2020

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.

What Is The Theme Of World Refugee Day 2020?

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.

What Are The 6 Types Of 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.

Women make up approximately half of the 244 million international migrants and 21 million refugees worldwide. (Credit: UNHCR)

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.

Can A Refugee Get A Green Card?

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.

DAKHINPARA, BANGLADESH – SEPTEMBER 12: Rohingya refugees jump from a wooden boat as it begins to tip over after travelling from Myanmar, on September 12, 2017 in Dakhinpara, Bangladesh. Recent reports have suggested that around 290,000 Rohingya have now fled Myanmar after violence erupted in Rakhine state. The ‘Muslim insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’ have issued statement that indicates that they are to observe a cease fire, and have asked the Myanmar government to reciprocate. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Which Country Accepts Most Immigrants?

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the meaning of World Refugee Day?

June 20 every year is observed as World Refugee Day to refugees, raise awareness about their condition, and gain support for their cause.

  • What is the theme of World Refugee Day 2020?

The theme for World Refugee Day 2020 is Step With Refugees.

  • What are the 6 types of refugees?
  1. Refugee.
  2. Asylum Seekers.
  3. Internally Displaced Persons.
  4. Stateless Persons.
  5. Returnees.
  6. Religious or Political Affiliation.
  • Which country accepts most immigrants?

According to the United Nations, the United States has the highest number of immigrants, followed by Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom.

  • What are the top 5 refugee-hosting countries?

According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2018

  1. Turkey (3.7 million)
  2. Pakistan (1.4 million)
  3. Uganda (1.2 million)
  4. Sudan (1.1 million)
  5. Germany (1.1 million)

Featured image for representation only.

Featured image source: Getty Images.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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