World Refugee Day 2024

The focus of today´s blog post is World Refugee Day, intending to clarify terms commonly take place in the discussions about refugees. Following brief historical and legal explanations, it touches upon some refugee crises around the globe, discusses the reasons, affects, and solidarity.

What is the World Refugee Day?

World Refugee Day started being celebrated worldwide by the decision of the United Nations (UN) in 2001 dedicating it to the 50th anniversary of 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is a day to honor refugees by discussing the themes of discrimination, diversity, equality, and refugee rights. This year the day focuses on solidarity with refugees, aiming to create a world where all refugees are welcome.

Who is a Refugee?

When discussing refugee rights, it is important to clarify the legal and political terms, as often a topic of political discussions, the refugees are often instrumentalized and neglected by political public figures.

The term refugee is used to signify someone who were forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war, or violence. It sometimes also includes internationally displaced persons (IDP) in daily speech.

In the 1951 Geneva Convention, it is defined as someone who has “… well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

States have different legal definitions for the term, as several countries have not signed the 1951 Geneva Convention, or signed it with geopolitical conditions (as grandfathered in the 1967 Protocol which removed geographic limitations). Additional to the terms refugee and internally displaced person, asylum seeker is another term commonly taking place in the discussions. This term refers to someone who seeks international protection whose request for refugee status, or complementary protection status is not yet granted. Usually, people with one or more of any status that are listed above, are covered in statistics.

Accordingly, by the end of 2023, there are 117.3 MILLION forcibly displaced people worldwide. 68 million are internally displaced people, 6.9 million are asylum seekers, 37.6 million are refugee, and 5.8 million are other people in need of international protection.

Where are Refugees?

Three quarters of all refugees come from five countries: Afghanistan, Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Ukraine, and South Sudan.

There usually are “typical” host countries for each, such as Ethiopia for South Sudan and many more, Poland and Russia, Germany for Ukraine, Pakistan for Afghanistan, and Germany and Turkey for Syrians. However, only five countries hold the 2 in 5 of total refugees: Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, Colombia, Germany, and Pakistan. Surprisingly enough, three quarters of all refugees live in countries of the Global South, but the number of refugees in European countries are increased significantly with the Ukraine crisis.

What are making people leave their home?

Armed conflict and wars are the most common reason for people to leave their homes. Today the cases of Syrians, Ukrainians, Palestinians, and Afghans are reflected by the mainstream media more widespread, which is an appreciated improvement that is alleviating the opportunities for these groups.

There are lesser portrayed cases such as South Sudan, where a violent conflict resulting in 2.32 million people leaving their homes to survive violence and sexual assault. Neighboring countries Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are hosting the majority of the South Sudanese refugees are now. An example for IDP would be given from Cameroon, where 1.3 million people are internally displaced (together with another million refugees). With an entanglement of terror attacks, political crisis, and a crisis of refugees originating from Nigeria and Central African Republic. Similarly, as a result of ongoing violent attacks, more than 6.2 million people are internally displaced in Democratic Republic of Congo, and over 1 million are refugees in mostly other African countries.

Alongside with political crisis and violence, climate change and natural disasters like famine, rise in the sea-level, volcanic eruptions or drought can also cause people fleeing their countries. The people who became refugees as a result of global warming and climate change are called climate refugees, although internal displacement is more common in the cases of natural disasters. All types of crises can create a major flow of refugees in need of host countries, but also there are personal reasons causing one person to seek asylum. In parallel to this, people with different sexual orientation or gender identities who are under a risk of persecution and death in their home countries can claim refugee status.

Solidarity with Refugees

Discrimination based on refugee status, ethnicity, and religion is an observed and scientifically studied phenomenon. It is experienced by refugees from different socioeconomic backgrounds in various aspects of life.            In many host countries, first- and second-generation refugee (and more generally immigrant) populations have higher unemployment rates and earn lower wages than do natives. The effects an intense refugee immigration creates in the host country´s economy also arguably lead to violent and discriminatory attitudes.

Of course, racism and xenophobia cannot be explained or excused by economic situation of a country. Native population have a major role in this reciprocal integration process. One of many ways to support refugees who already experienced severe hardship before, during, and after their migration, is to support the organizations who already work in solidarity with forcibly displaced persons.