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  • Deanna Wilken

World Refugee Day: An Overview

Author: Deanna Wilken

June 20, 2023

Every year on June 20th, the United Nations and countless nations, governments, and international organizations recognize World Refugee Day. It is an international day established to recognize the plight of refugees and to remind them they have not been forgotten. Yet, there currently are over 35 million refugees worldwide in need of support, and more must be done to help them.

What is a refugee? According to the UN definition, a refugee is a person who is outside of their country of origin, having left due to reasons such as persecution, conflict and war, targeted violence, natural disasters, or other circumstances, which have driven them to seek international protection. The UN states that refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Thus, it is critical other nations provide safety and protection to all those forced to flee their homes.

As outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, nations have a legal obligation to provide refugees with "the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals." These include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;

  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;

  • The right to work;

  • The right to housing;

  • The right to education;

  • The right to public relief and assistance;

  • The right to freedom of religion;

  • The right to access the courts;

  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory;

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents.

Unfortunately, not all nations are signatories to the refugee convention, and even many of those who are have not been compliant in following international human rights law as it relates to refugees. With 108.4 million people forcibly displaced and 35.3 million categorized as refugees, it is critical the world do better to help these individuals as they work to rebuild their lives.

"People escaping violence or persecution must be able to cross borders safely. They must not face discrimination at borders or be unfairly denied refugee status or asylum due to their race, religion, gender, or country of origin." -- UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Read more of HRRC's work on refugees and forced displacement.


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