Hi everyone! My name is Isabel and I am the summer intern here at Klinke Immigration. I recently graduated from NYU, where I wrote my Senior Thesis about the historical development of asylum and the modern global ‘refugee crisis.’ I first became interested in forced migration during an internship at World Relief Atlanta my senior year of high school, which led me where I am today! This fall, I will continue pursuing this interest by studying for an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford.
Because of my focus on refugees, I was asked to write this blog post about World Refugee Day, which was this past weekend. What is World Refugee Day, you may ask? It is an international day that was designated by the United Nations to honor and celebrate refugees all across the world. It was first celebrated globally on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and has since taken place on the same date every year. Although the stories and rights of refugees should be shared and celebrated daily, it is important to have an international day to bring awareness to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers at a global level.
So how does one celebrate World Refugee Day? There are quite a few ways one can get involved and celebrate this both large and diverse group of people. Every year, there are a variety of events held in countries everywhere to support refugees, be it a fundraising event, a panel discussion about the current refugee situation, or supporting local refugee organizations and businesses. Anyone can get involved, regardless of how much! Whether you attend an event or simply donate to a local organization that supports refugees and asylum seekers, no act is too small. There is a list of ways to get involved at the end of this blog post, and remember that it doesn’t have to be World Refugee Day for you to get involved! What is most important is that you stand in solidarity and raise awareness about the experiences of refugees.
Now, of course, not everyone knows the situation of refugees, or even what a refugee is for that matter. To be honest, it is quite complex. I actually dedicated an entire chapter of my thesis to the terminology of forced migration, explaining the difference between immigrant, asylum seeker, refugee, and so on. My thesis is linked above, in case you’d like an in-depth explanation; however, I will try to go over the basics.
A migrant is anyone who has moved from their original place of origin, be it across an international border or within their own country. Often, people distinguish between forced migrant and chosen or economic migrant; however, the experience of migrants is a lot more nuanced and therefore does not fall into this stark binary. However, refugees and asylum seekers are most commonly considered to be forced migrants, while those who move for their education or work are considered chosen migrants.
An internally displaced person (IDP) as an individual who has been forced out of their home due to persecution. However, they have not crossed an international border and remain within their country of origin. IDPs make up the largest portion of displaced migrants worldwide.
The terms asylum seeker and refugee are often used interchangeably; however, there are specific legal distinctions between the two, both at the national and international level. Asylum seekers are individuals who have fled their home country due to a fear of persecution. They travel to another country in hopes of obtaining refugee status, however they are not yet legally recognized as such. Refugee status affords an individual many more rights and opportunities than an asylum seeker. Nonetheless, seeking asylum is a human right, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Different countries have different qualifications for what is considered an asylum seeker versus a refugee; however, an easy way to remember it is that every refugee was once an asylum seeker, but not every asylum seeker becomes a legally recognized refugee. For more information on seeking asylum, check out this website.
Refugees are individuals who have fled their home country due to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” as according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Being a refugee means that one has been granted refugee status and is recognized internationally and therefore are afforded certain rights and protections. One most commonly applies for refugee status determination in the first country of asylum, often those bordering the country of origin and either remains settled there or is resettled to a third country, which is the way refugees come to the United States. It is important to remember that becoming a refugee is not easy. It is an extremely difficult and rigorous process that takes several years. It may be a common misconception that refugees and asylum seekers enter countries unlawfully, however they go through a multitude of background checks, applications, interviews, and approvals. For more information on the process of becoming a refugee, check out this website.
Now in regards to the situation of refugees, the current ‘crisis’ is the largest influx of displaced persons since World War II. It primarily began in 2015, with conflicts such as the civil war in Syria creating large amounts of displaced persons, fleeing both to neighboring countries and across oceans to places including the United States. The UNHCR states that there are about 65.3 million forcibly displaced people across the world, with more than 21 million of them being refugees and 10 million stateless. Over half of refugees are under the age of 18 and it is estimated that over 42,000 people flee their homes daily to seek protection; in 2020 alone, 13.9 people were newly displaced. Of the 65.3 million displaced persons, 86% of them are hosted in developing countries, even though the media may make it seem like they are primarily in places such as Europe and the United States.
Because there has been a significant spike in the number of displaced persons, it has been difficult for countries to address the needs of asylum seekers and refugees, especially those in the developing world. In fact, it has been found that 90% of global resettlement needs are unmet, which makes it difficult for refugees to move on with their new lives; “in 2019, UNHCR estimates that 1.4 million refugees are in need of resettlement. However, only 92,400 resettlement places were provided by 25 states in 2018.” Although countries’ immigration systems may be overwhelmed by the large number of asylum seekers, it is important to always remember that “it is never a crime to seek asylum. The right to seek asylum in another country for those who have lost the protection of their own country, is enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Refugee Convention is the first treaty which turned the ideals of the Declaration into legally binding obligations. It is therefore not a crime to seek asylum, even if the person has entered the country irregularly.”
So now that you’ve gotten a super short overview of the situation of refugees and asylum seekers, how can you help? One of the most important things you can do is educate yourself and others. There are a multitude of resources available to learn more about refugees and forced migration. Some of my favorites include: the Migration Policy Institute, the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, the International Rescue Committee, USCIS, and the National Immigration Forum. There are also several organizations where you can either donate your money, time, or physical goods (such as clothing, furniture, toys, etc.) in support of local refugees, including: Inspiritus, New American Pathways, International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities Atlanta, Refugee Women’s Network. There are several ways you can get involved and support the refugees in your community; the International Rescue Committee has put together a more comprehensive list here.
More resources about refugees and World Refugee Day:
- See how people celebrate around the world https://www.unhcr.org/world-refugee-day.html
- Ways to get involved https://www.globalgiving.org/world-refugee-day/
- “World Refugee Day 2021: A look at Syrian and other major refugee crises around the world” https://www.firstpost.com/world/world-refugee-day-2021-a-look-at-syrian-and-other-major-refugee-crises-around-the-world-9733831.html
- “Refugees Have Billions to Contribute to the U.S. Economy” https://giwps.georgetown.edu/refugees-have-billions-to-contribute-to-u-s-economy/
- “Immigrants as Economic Contributors: Refugees Are a Fiscal Success Story for America” https://immigrationforum.org/article/immigrants-as-economic-contributors-refugees-are-a-fiscal-success-story-for-america/
- “Why accepting refugees is a win-win-win formula” https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/06/19/refugees-are-a-win-win-win-formula-for-economic-development/
- Atlanta: Resettled Refugees and the American South https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/atlanta-resettled-refugees-and-the-american-south/