World Refugee Day is observed internationally on June 20 to raise awareness for refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. Created by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in December 2000, it was first celebrated in 2001 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a United Nations treaty that sets out the rights of individuals who have been defined as refugees and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. As issues surrounding refugees and internally displaced persons have come to the forefront of the international agenda in recent years, World Refugee Day emerges as an opportunity to commemorate the strength and courage of millions of refugees with a variety of events planned in over 100 countries worldwide. The goal of World Refugee Day is to bring together government and civil society leaders, celebrities, and civilians to raise funds and awareness and show public support for the tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world.
This year’s theme is the #WithRefugees Campaign, a petition launched in June of 2016 to provide a platform for the public to show their solidarity with refugees and urge governments to take action. The petition requests that governments ensure basic rights to refugees such as education, safe living conditions, and opportunities to learn new skills or work in their communities. Over 1.5 million people have added their names to the petition, and individuals are also encouraged to get involved by attending local World Refugee Day events in their communities and sharing World Refugee Day videos across social media. Through this theme, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) seeks to provide a voice for refugees that have been displaced by violence. Instead of standing in solidarity with faceless individuals scattered around the world, the media campaign will allow members of the public to better understand displaced families and individuals who are now seeking a better life.
The opportunity for people around the world to proudly assert that they stand with refugees comes at a crucial time. Refugees and mass migration are at the forefront of global issues as the civil war in Syria escalates and conflicts from South America to Southeast Asia continue to worsen, uprooting millions of individuals in the process. Refugee resettlement has become a point of contention in countries across the West as an influx of migrants and refugees has led to rise in xenophobia and racism. Displaced persons and migrants have been accused of harboring terrorists or even being terrorists themselves, and these fears have been used to shape policy surrounding refugees. Fences have been erected along European borders, refugee camps are crowded and deteriorating, and thousands have perished trying to cross the Mediterranean in pursuit of a better life. Concerns about migrants and refugees played a major role in last year’s Brexit referendum, as well.
President Donald Trump has made refugee resettlement a cornerstone of his administration’s policy agenda. During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump called the Obama Administration’s plans to increase the number of Syrian refugees taken in by the United States as a “Trojan horse”, and his administration has faced numerous legal challenges in attempting to implement a 120-ban on their entry into the country. These actions, coupled with a myriad of other threats, have caused refugee admissions to the United States to significantly decrease at a time when they could not be more important.
With the violence destroying their communities continuing without an end in sight, we must seek informed and innovative solutions to address the root causes of today’s refugee crisis. War, terrorism, and geopolitical conflicts, droughts and other unsustainable environmental conditions, gang violence, and destabilizing economic inopportunity have all contributed to the influx in refugees and IDPs in recent years. Countries in every region of the world must work together to craft policy that addresses these transnational, societal, and socioeconomic issues. Security challenges and refugee acceptance are not mutually exclusive and should not be treated as such. We must come together to embrace refugees, not out of legality or security, but out of humanity.
World Refugee Day stands as a shining opportunity to affirm our support for those who have had their lives upended by conflict. At Grieboski Global Strategies (GGS), we are committed to helping nations solve humanitarian crises and seek innovative policy solutions, and we stand in support of World Refugee Day. Refugees represent one of the most vulnerable aspects of our global community and ask only for safety and security in return. Embracing and offering support to refugees and internally displaced persons helps to build stronger nations, both at home and abroad. Every day, thousands of individuals around the world are displaced, yet refugees are more than just a statistic; they are members of society, they are members of families, but most of all they are human, just like the rest of us.