World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 every year. Refugee advocates urge people to use this day to focus on the plight of those who have been displaced by famine, war and oppression, and to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. And it is a day to show that the global public stands with refugees.
And, let’s be real, the need for such a day has never been so, well, real.
We are currently in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in history. According to data published by the U.N. Refugee Agency, by the end of 2016 more than 65 million people worldwide were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution. To put that into perspective — that’s about the population of California, New York and Colorado combined. Or over 28,000 people per day, and almost 20 people every minute. Twenty. People. Every. Minute.
Let that sink in.
Now, according to the U.N., there are several types of forcibly displaced persons:
- Refugees – A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
- Asylum seekers – Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.
- Internally Displaced Persons – Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country.
- Stateless Persons – Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country. Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Their lack of identification — a citizenship certificate — can exclude them from access to important government services, including healthcare, education or employment.
- Returnees – Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives at home.
One of the biggest factors contributing to this crisis is war. According to the UN, more than half of refugees are coming from three war-torn countries — Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The other big factors? Famine and persecution. In Africa, nearly 20 million people are at risk for starvation. And in Myanmar, about 1 million Rohingyas — an ethnic and religious minority of Muslim Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State in Myanmar, and arguably one of the most persecuted people in the world — say they are being increasingly targeted and attacked.
And if I haven’t pulled at your heartstrings enough, children are disproportionately affected — 51% of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18. That means nearly 1 in 200 children around the world is a refugee.
And what’s worse? Developed countries aren’t actually doing much to help. The majority of refugees are hosted in developing countries. And only 1% of refugees are actually resettled in a year — in 2016, 150,000 refugees got new homes via the UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency) in which 37 mostly richer nations participate.
Show can you help?
- Let the world know that you stand #WithRefugees. Use your social media to spread the word about the problem and let people know that you support refugees.
- Sign the petition. At the beginning of this month, the UN Refugee Agency launched the #WithRefugees petition to send a message to governments that they must work together and do their fair share for refugees. The petition asks governments to ensure every refugee child gets an education; ensure every refugee family has somewhere to live; and ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community (did someone say basic human rights?). You can sign the petition here, or donate here.
- Write a Letter of Hope. CARE (a nonprofit organization that fights poverty by empowering girls and women) launched their Letters of Hope initiative in 2016, when CARE Package recipients in the United States, themselves refugees following WWII, wrote letters of support to Syrian children, bridging the great distance and circumstances that separated them. That outreach has inspired thousands of people around the world to send their own heartfelt messages. Refugees need support now more than ever. Share your own letter of hope today and join the movement to stand in solidarity with refugees everywhere.
- Volunteer. The International Rescue Committee has 26 offices all over the country, and they all have volunteer opportunities for groups and individuals. Find an office near you, and depending on the location, you can volunteer to mentor refugees as they adjust to the U.S., give refugees a hand as they look for a job, or help out with the organization’s refugee-run garden.
- Learn more and donate. You can also check out and donate to organizations like UNICEF and Amnesty international, Plan International, CARE, the International Rescue Committee that are all working to help.