Voices from refugees: Refugee tales in war’s wake

Voices from refugees: Refugee tales in war’s wake



For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own events similar to World Refugee Day. One of the most widespread events is Refugee Day, which is celebrated on June 20 in many countries that adopted a resolution to express its solidarity with refugees worldwide, on December 4, 2000.

The resolution noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, and that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on June 20. The Assembly therefore decided that June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day from 2001 onwards.

This day was designated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to bring attention to the plight of approximately 14 million refugees around the world.

The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This event honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.

World Refugee Day highlights the plight of people who have escaped conflict and are rebuilding their lives. It is observed on June 20 by communities and civic groups around the world to raise public awareness to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.

June 20 is the day the world commemorates the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. Held every year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee.

In September 2016, global leaders agreed to work towards a Global Compact for refugees in 2018 where all parts of society stand together #WithRefugees and do their fair share instead of leaving individual states to bear the burden of mass forced displacement.

Defining a ‘refugee’:

The United Nations defines refugees as people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are granted refugee status by the country they enter, which grants them protection under international law and makes them eligible for aid. People who are displaced from their homes but remain in their country are not considered refugees.

Refugees worldwide?

As of mid-2017, 65.6 million people have been displaced. Of that number, 22.5 million fled to other countries. More than half of them are under 18 years old, the highest number of child refugees since World War II.

In 2016, 75,000 children applied for asylum as “unaccompanied minors.” Most were from Afghanistan and Syria.

As of March 22, 2018, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has registered 5.6 million refugees. UNHCR estimates nearly one in 100 people worldwide have been pushed out of their countries due to war or political instability.

The Eastern Mediterranean Region is the largest originator of refugees globally, with more than half of the world’s refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. At the same time, the Region also hosts a large percentage of the world’s 17.1 million refugees, with many countries experiencing large migration flows from Africa and the Region towards Europe.

On World Refugee Day 2018, the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean calls for renewed support for the protection and well-being of refugees and other displaced populations, and their right to seek health services with dignity, without discrimination, and without undergoing financial hardship.

Historic Refugee Migration:



Pakistan has hosted one of the largest displaced populations in the world for a long time. It has been a better host than many other countries and has traditionally welcomed and accommodated refugees. The country has seen a huge influx of Afghans fleeing violence and conflict since the 1970s.

The first comprehensive registration of Afghans living in Pakistan, which took place in 2006-07, provided many Afghan refugees with a Proof of Registration (PoR) card, initially valid for three years.

HRW documents accounts by Afghans of repeated threats, frequent detentions, regular demands for bribes and occasional violence by the Pakistani police in the months since the Peshawar school attack. The abuse has compelled many Afghans to return to an uncertain fate in Afghanistan, while those living in Pakistan remain in constant fear.

The report records the testimony of many Afghans having PoR cards, but even this provided little protection against police harassment and abuse.

In both its August and September 2015 monthly updates, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted: “In general, eviction notices by the authorities, harassment, intimidation, movement limitations, economic factors, settlement closure/consolidation and fear of arrest and/or deportation were mentioned by interviewed returnees as the main push factors of return from Pakistan so far this year (2015).”

HRW makes concrete recommendations to ensure better protection of the rights of Afghan refugees, including that the Pakistan government should extend current PoR cards until at least December 31, 2017 and review the PoR system to establish better procedures to avoid the stress and cost of periodic short-term renewals.

The ongoing global refugee crisis is a reminder to all of humanity that refugees must be treated fairly. The HRW report serves as a stark and timely warning to the Pakistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments; it is a warning that should be heeded.



The Syrian refugee crisis and its repercussions for the EU:

Anti-government demonstrations began in March of 2011, as part of the Arab Spring. But the peaceful protests quickly escalated after the government’s violent crackdown, and armed opposition groups began fighting back.

By July, army defectors had loosely organized the Free Syrian Army and many civilian Syrians took up arms to join the opposition. Divisions between secular and religious fighters, and between ethnic groups, continue to complicate the politics of the conflict.

An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Now, in the sixth year of war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria.

Meanwhile about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 cumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.

The Syrian conflict has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes.

Families are struggling to survive inside Syria or make a new home in neighboring countries. Others are risking their lives on the way to Europe, hoping to find acceptance and opportunity. And harsh winters and hot summers make life as a refugee even more difficult. At times, the effects of the conflict can seem overwhelming.

But one fact is simple: millions of Syrians need our help. According to the U.N., $4.6 billion was required to meet the urgent needs of the most vulnerable Syrians in 2017 — but only a little more than half was received.

What is happening to Syrians caught in the war?

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the almost seven years since it began. Crowded cities have been destroyed and horrific human rights violations are widespread. Basic necessities like food and medical care are sparse.

The U.N. estimates that 6.1 million people are internally displaced. When you also consider refugees, well over half of the country’s pre-war population of 22 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders.

The situation in Syria went from bad to worse when outside parties became involved in the conflict in the fall of 2015. As conflict intensifies, our teams on the ground have seen an increase in the number of civilian casualties and families forced to leave their homes in search of safety.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege since 2013. The UN reports that more than 130,000 people have fled their homes in just the past four weeks.

Residents have little to no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. Children from Eastern Ghouta suffer from some of the highest levels of malnutrition of any time in the Syria crisis.

ISIS captured the city in 2013 and one year later declared it as its capital in Syria. Approximately 200,000 people fled in the battle for Raqqa and displacement camps are overflowing.

Where are Syrians fleeing to?

More than 6.1 million people have fled their homes and remain displaced within Syria. Some 1.8 million of whom were newly displaced in 2017 — approximately 6,550 people displaced each day. They live in informal settlements, crowded in with extended family or sheltering in damaged or abandoned buildings.

Some people survived the horrors of multiple displacements, besiegement, hunger and disease and fled to areas where they thought they would be safe, only to find themselves caught up in the crossfire once again.

Across northern Syria, we are seeing that 20-60 percent of the population is made up of people who have had to flee their homes — many of them more than once.

More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and Lebanon, where Mercy Corps has been addressing their needs since 2012. In the region’s two smallest countries, weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.

In August 2013, more Syrians escaped into northern Iraq at a newly-opened border crossing. Now they are trapped by that country’s own internal conflict, and Iraq is struggling to meet the needs of Syrian refugees on top of 2.6 million internally displaced Iraqis — efforts that we are working to support.

Turkey remains the largest host of refugees globally, with nearly 3 million refugees reported living inside its borders at the end of 2016.

Pakistan is second with 1.6 million.

Lebanon is third with 1 million.

Rounding out the top 10 are Iran with 978, 000; Ethiopia with nearly 740,000; Jordan with 700,000; Kenya with 523,000; Uganda with 512,000; Germany with 470,000; and Chad with 380,000.

How are people escaping Syria?

Thousands of Syrians flee their country every day. They often decide to finally escape after seeing their neighborhoods attacked or family members killed.

The risks on the journey to the border can be as high as staying: Families walk for miles through the night to avoid being shot at by snipers or being caught by warring parties who will kidnap young men to fight for their cause.

How many Syrian refugees are children?


According to the U.N., almost half of all Syrian refugees — roughly 2.6 million — are under the age of 18. Most have been out of school for months, if not years. About 36,000 school buses would be needed to drive every young refugee to school.

Over 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011, seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. Millions more are displaced inside Syria and, as war continues, hope is fading fast.

Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict for seven years, has created the highest number of refugees – An estimated 660,000 Syrians fled the country in 2017, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees to 5.6 million. Most have settled in neighboring countries. An additional 6.6 million have been displaced within Syria.

The conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in 2.5 million refugees.

The young country of South Sudan accounted for 1.4 million refugees.

Religious and ethnic conflict has sent 1.1 million fleeing from Myanmar.

As of April 2017, more than 876,000 people have fled Somalia.

Facts that evolved around 2018:

World Refugee Day commemorates the obstacles refugees face each year, while also celebrating their courage and strength. Since 2001, the United Nations and more than 100 countries have observed World Refugee Day annually on June 20th.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has started the #WithRefugees petition to send a message of action, solidarity, and responsibility on behalf of refugees to governments worldwide.

Together, we can work to end the refugee crisis and find homes for displaced peoples worldwide. Here are seven facts to help you better understand the current refugee crisis, and how you can help:

Right now, nearly 66 million people around the world are displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution and natural disasters.

This write-up highlights the growing body of IOM programmatic and other data, particularly on missing migrants, assisted voluntary returns and reintegration, migrant health, resettlement, displacement-tracking, and human trafficking.

Current estimates are that there are 244 million international migrants globally (or 3.3% of the world’s population). While the vast majority of people in the world continue to live in the country in which they were born, more people are migrating to other countries, especially those within their region. Many others are migrating to high-income countries that are further afield.
Work is the major reason that people migrate internationally, and migrant workers constitute a large majority of the world’s international migrants, with most living in high-income countries and many engaged in the service sector. Global displacement is at a record high, with the number of internally displaced at over 40 million and the number of refugees more than 22 million.

The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization. References to it have been found in texts written 3,500 years ago, during the blossoming of the great early empires in the Middle East such as the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians and ancient Egyptians.

Over three millennia later, protecting refugees was made the core mandate of the UN refugee agency, which was set up to look after refugees, specifically those waiting to return home at the end of World War II.

What is UNHCR doing to help?

Since then, UNHCR has offered protection and assistance to tens of millions of refugees, finding durable solutions for many of them.

Global migration patterns have become increasingly complex in modern times, involving not just refugees, but also millions of economic migrants. But refugees and migrants, even if they often travel in the same way, are fundamentally different, and for that reason are treated very differently under modern international law.

UNHCR provides life-saving humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, helping the most vulnerable with cash for medicine and food, stoves and fuel for heating, insulation for tents, thermal blankets and winter clothing.
For those who have been displaced but remain in Syria, we provide shelter kits and non-food items as well as protection services and psychosocial support.

In early 2017, with Syria’s war heading into its seventh year and with no end to the fighting in sight, we joined forces with other United Nations humanitarian and development agencies to appeal for US$8 billion in vital new funding to help millions of people in Syria and across the region.

The first aspect of the appeal is the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2018-2019. Led by UNHCR, it calls for US$4.4 billion to support over 5 million refugees in neighboring countries and some four million people in the communities hosting them.

The second aspect is the 2017 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks nearly US$3.2 billion to provide humanitarian support and protection to 13.5 million people inside Syria.

“Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time, a continuing cause of suffering for millions which should be garnering a groundswell of support around the world.”

Did You Know?

According to the UNHCR, there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people around the world. 

More than 21 million of these people are refugees and 10 million are stateless. 

On average, 42,500 people per day flee their homes to seek protection within the borders of their own country or other countries.

In the last year alone, there have been 13.9 million people newly displaced.

The civil war in Syria has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our lifetime.

More than 11 million Syrians are currently displaced. This amounts to 45% of the Syrian population.

86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.

This number has jumped by 16% in the last decade. Refugees only account for a tiny percentage of overall immigration.

The world’s largest refugee camp is located in Dadaab, Kenya, which is home to more than 329,000 people.

The Dadaab refugee camp was been threatened with closures due to potential security risks.

Of the 20 million refugees worldwide, 51% are under the age of 18.

This is the highest number of child refugees since World War II. 

The first-ever Refugee Team competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. 

The team was comprised of athletes from Ethiopia, South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria.

Message to all:

You can help. The more you know about the crisis, the more we can do together to help those in need. The lifesaving works we do, empowering people to survive through crisis and build better lives, is only possible with your knowledge and support.

Currently underway is a global compact on refugees to ensure that all refugee response programmes worldwide deliver on the comprehensive commitments on the rights and needs of women and girls made in the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants.

The government should also issue a specific written directive instructing all relevant government officials and state security forces to cease unlawful surveillance, harassment, intimidation and violence against Afghans living in Pakistan.

Lastly, the government should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and adopt a national refugee law, as proposed in the 2013 National Policy on the Management and Repatriation of Afghan Refugees.

We need to break away from traditional response strategies that are no longer adequate to support the reality facing refugees today.

The average length of displacement is now 17 years or more, which means that those affected will spend a significant portion of their lives as refugees. This must shift our understanding of requirements and solutions from those of peoples on the move, to those of non-movement.

We must therefore look beyond immediate assistance and offer viable long-term solutions that protect women’s and girls’ rights, provide opportunities for growth, engagement and gainful employment, and maintain their dignity throughout the displacement cycle.
Women and girls must be able to be self-reliant and to build a future of their own choosing. This benefits the individual women themselves, as well as their families, communities and host countries.

The women and girls who make up approximately half of those currently displaced experience both discrimination and violence.

With the breakdown of protection mechanisms and the destruction of essential services and economic structures, their already marginalized position deteriorates further when they lack access to and control of resources, and when there are no further viable coping strategies.

Refugee Petition?

You can call on these governments to keep their promise by signing the #WithRefugees petition. It asks them to make sure:

  • Every refugee child gets an education
  • Every refugee family has somewhere safe to live
  • Every refugee can work or learn new skills to support their families.

In a world where one in every 113 people have been forced to flee their homes because of war or persecution it’s vital we demonstrate the global public stands #WithRefugees.





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