On June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day with this year´s theme “Every Action Counts” which might raise three questions that will be discussed in this article: 1) Why do we celebrate international days and what is the idea behind it? 2) What exactly is a refugee and what related terminology do we need to know? 3) What does it practically mean that every action counts? Let´s address each of those important questions individually.
First of all, international days are important as they are critical tools to raise global and public awareness about certain issues that affect all of humanity. Whether those days are directly related to historic achievements, to the death or life of significant figures or strategically chosen to amplify their impact – the importance of such special days can´t be underestimated! They function as both advocacy tools as well as days of celebration to cherish the progress we have made on certain issues so far while recommitting to more action and dedication for the future. Therefore, international days contain some sort of tension that allows anyone who hears about or celebrates them, to engage on a deeper level with the particular issue raised on that very day.
Now that we have established the nature and significance of international days,
let´s take the example of today´s World Refugee Day – what are we celebrating today? In our polarized world, refugee has become a loaded term and often confused with related terms like asylum seekers, internally displaced people, stateless persons, and returnees. Therefore, here is a list with a short definition for each one of those terms by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day):
“A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.”
“Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.”
“Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country.”
“Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country.” “Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Their lack of identification — a citizenship certificate — can exclude them from access to important government services, including health care, education or employment.”
“Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives at home.”
It is critical to be aware of those distinctions, not only to be politically correct, but most of all to be able to address people individually by not throwing them into a vague pool of “foreigners” which tends to be very disrespectful as it usually neglects the past and emotions of a human being and dignity. We celebrate the World Refugee Day because rather sooner than later this world should be striving for/achieving societies where there are no refugees because of inclusive and respectful treatment of each other. Regardless of how far away we as current society might be though, this year´s theme shows us the right approach: “Every Action Counts”!
“Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror”, according to a recent statistic by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day). This fact cries out for people from all over the world to take bold steps in this regard as it matters! Sometimes our individual influence and impact might seem trivial in this humongous world.
However, looking at the COVID-19 pandemic and the current anti-racism protests all around the world, we can clearly see that they only way to move forward sustainably into a more inclusive and equal society is if, and only if, we do it together. Educate, talk to, encourage and listen to each other so that each voice is heard and brought to the table. Change is driven by all of us and not only the political authorities which the current protests and the quarantine regulations have clearly exemplified. One step at a time to ensure that no one is left behind! It won´t happen over night but by collective and repeated interaction with each and every part and person of society! Refugees are as much part of the society as you are, so let´s make sure that their voices are heard, amplified and acted upon!
“Everyone can make a difference. This is at the heart of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign. This year, we aim to remind the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society and Every Action Counts in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world.” (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day)