By Lauren Kearns, Senior Communications Intern
The UNHCR describes World Refugee Day as “an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. It falls each year on June 20 and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. World Refugee Day is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives” (Source 1).
World Refugee Day was first celebrated in 2001 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Source 1). The Convention was a UN treaty signed by 145 State parties, legally defining the rights of refugees and the responsibilities that States have to protect them (Source 2). This treaty continues to play a crucial role in the field of refugee rights, guiding much of the work done by the UNHCR (UN’s High Commission on Refugees).
World Refugee Day is typically celebrated with worldwide events displaying support for the more than 25 million refugees that have been forced to leave their homes (Source 3). However, due to COVID-19, World Refugee Day will look a little different this year, with most events happening virtually instead of in-person. Fortunately, the UNHCR has compiled a schedule of 30 virtual World Refugee Day events taking place between June 1st and 20th — these include live speakers, discussion panels, film festivals, cooking classes, and more. And since they are all virtual, you can join right from home! https://www.unhcr.org/refugeeday/wrd2020-events/
Additionally, the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day is “Every Action Counts.” In the midst of a pandemic, the idea of finding ways to make a difference can seem daunting. However, the notion behind this theme is that “No matter who you are or where you come from, pandemic or not, every one of us can make a difference" (Source 1). One great way to start is by getting informed about the types of issues refugees face, and spreading this knowledge in your social circles. A poll conducted by the UNHCR found that “the [American] public is largely unaware of the scope of the international refugee crisis and where the needs are greatest" (Source 4). The lack of knowledge regarding these severe circumstances can easily lead to indifference and a lack of compassion toward refugees.
So, our challenge to you for this year’s World Refugee Day is to prioritize a) informing yourself and b) speaking out, whether it be at the family dinner table, on social media, or anywhere else you can make your voice heard. There are endless resources available that you can share, but we recommend starting with this series of TEDTalks, delivered by experts, humanitarians, and refugees themselves. https://www.ted.com/playlists/294/refugees_welcome
Source 1: https://www.unhcr.org/world-refugee-day