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World Refugee Day

90 refugees from Ecuador crammed onto small boat in 2005 (source: US Navy)

20 June 2013 -- The purpose of World Refugee Day is to draw attention to the plight of refugees, celebrate their courage and resilience and renew commitment to solving refugee problems. It is also an opportunity to recognise the contributions that refugees make to the countries that host them.

This year, the theme of the Day is "One Family". Events and activities around the world leading up to the Day are intended to raise awareness of the situation of forcibly displaced and stateless people, especially in crises like the conflict in Syria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, has urged the public to observe the Day by "taking 1 minute to support a family forced to flee."

On World Refugee Day, UNHCR also releases its annual "Global Trends" report. There were 45.2 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2012, including 15.4 million refugees - the highest number of people displaced since 1994. 7.6 million people became newly displaced in 2012. On average, a person became a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds. 81 percent of the world's refugees are in developing nations, as are the vast majority of internally displaced people. António Guterres, the head of UNHCR, has noted: "These truly are alarming numbers. They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale and they reflect the difficulties of the international community in preventing conflicts and promoting timely solutions for them."

The high number of refugees hosted by developing countries underscores the disproportionate burden carried by those least able to afford it as well as the need for international support. In 2012, Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (more than 1.6 million), followed by Iran (868,200) and Germany (589,700). Pakistan also hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity with 552 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. Approximately 55% of refugees worldwide come from five countries: Afghanistan (nearly 2.6 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Iraq (746,400), Syria (728,500) and  Sudan (569,200; potentially including citizens of South Sudan as separate data does not yet exist for both countries). 

Source: UNHCR

Selected learning materials

Study Guide on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
A quick introduction in the rights of refugees and ways to protect them.

For advocates
Refugees in the UN System of Human Rights Protection (by Jacqueline Kacprzak, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights-Poland)
This lesson plan consists of exercises related to the problems faced by refugees. Focus is on the application of the Refugee Convention and the activities of the UNHCR.

For health professionals
Examining Asylum Seekers: A Health Professional's Guide to Medical and Psychological Evaluations of Torture (by Physicians for Human Rights)
This guide is designed specifically for medical or mental health professionals seeking to develop knowledge and skills needed to conduct clinical evaluations of asylum seekers and assess physical or psychological evidence of torture and ill-treatment. Several sections of this guidebook are based on recent international guidelines for medical/legal documentation of torture.

For humanitarian workers
IASC Training Modules on Internally Displaced Persons (Norwegian Refugee Council/Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
Comprehensive training package on internally displaced persons. This online training program consists of several modules which, used alone or together, discuss the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons guaranteed by international law. The following modules are currently available on-line: A Definition of Internally Displaced Persons; Legal Origins and International Obligations; Protection from Displacement; Return, Resettlement, and Reintegration; and Recipients as Resources: Community Based Programming.

For teachers
Lesson Plan on Refugee Children (UNHCR)
This unit of lessons has been designed to help young students to empathize with the plight of refugee children, to become aware that children from all over the world have similar needs.

Debate: America, Refugees and Asylum (Michael Hutchison)
This lesson plan accompanies the film Well-Founded Fear (108 minutes) which offers a view into the world of the immigration authorities in the United States who have to make decisions about whether or not they grant asylum and "reveal the dramatic real-life stage where human rights and American ideals collide with the nearly impossible task of trying to know the truth". The lesson plan is in debate format and addresses background of refugee problems and its international context, refugee law and its international context, and the interpretation of laws by immigration officials.

Opening the Door to Nonviolence. Peace Education Manual for Primary School Children (Maja Uzelac)
This comprehensive teacher manual was designed by the Croatian NGO Mali Korak ("Small Step"). The manual was used with children in schools and refugee camps in multiethnic settings at the end of the Bosnian wars.

Refugee Roleplay (Amnesty International)
This lesson activity uses a roleplay where refugees and border officials express different points of view on the rights of refugees to increase students' knowledge about refugee rights.

International and regional documents on refugees and displaced persons:

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951)

Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967)

Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969) (African Union, formerly Organisation of African Unity, OAU)

Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (1984) (Organization of American States, OAS)

Useful links

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Links to organisations that support and advocate for refugees and IDPs



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