Action Alert

World Refugee Day 2015

World Refugee Day 2015
Refugees from Libya line up for food at a transit camp near the Tunisia-Libya border.

“War, armed conflict, and human rights concerns in a number of countries – notably the Syrian Arab Republic and Ukraine – are among the principal reasons for the upsurge in the number of asylum seekers in industrialized countries…” – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2014 Asylum Trends Report

Each year on June 20, nations across the globe hold events and gatherings to mark World Refugee Day. What initially had started as Africa Refugee Day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 2000, to be recognized internationally as World Refugee Day. The annual day of observance is meant to “honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.” Many communities across the globe engage in weeklong activities aimed at raising awareness of the circumstances facing so many of the world’s displaced. Some of these activities include: activist protests against using former prisons to detain migrants and asylum seekers; screenings of films about the lives of asylum seekers living in a western country; or sending letters or petitions to governments on the treatment of asylum seekers in detention.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines someone who is a refugee as a person who is forced to leave their country because they are unsafe there, and that a host country may not return the refugee against their own will back to their country of origin if they fear they will be harmed. Asylum seekers are those persons whose claims for asylum have not yet been processed so they are not yet designated as refugees. This year’s World Refugee Day highlights the growing problem of displacement and political turmoil in the modern world as the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees continues to steadily climb.

13 Million Refugees

According to the UNHCR, there are an estimated 13 million refugees in the world and that number continues to grow, with women and girls comprising 48 percent of all refugees. Civil wars, internal strife and political turmoil have fueled many of the world’s contemporary conflicts. Ongoing conflicts and unrest in several countries including Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen have resulted in a substantial influx of refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world. Nationals of the Syrian Arab Republic comprised the bulk of asylum applicants in 2014 with 149,600. The United States has the second highest asylum seeking applicant rate in the world with an estimated 121,400 applications in 2014; marking a 42 percent increase in North America since early 2012.

In Burundi, violence linked to political campaigns has caused more than 21,000 natives of that country to flee to neighboring Rwanda in one month. This comes right before the June 26 presidential elections. Europe is now witnessing a massive influx of people crossing international waters and bearing the dangers of the sea to escape their perilous situations in their home countries. In April 2015, in what is considered one of the deadliest migration disasters in modern times, a boat carrying an estimated 900 people seeking refuge capsized in the Mediterranean sea. Nearly all on board perished. The growing number of refugees has left the Italian navy along with the rest of Europe struggling to meet the demands of the displaced populations. While the influx of asylum seekers is stretching the capacities of the industrialized nations, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls upon the industrialized nations of the world to do more:

“Most of the world’s refugees — 86 per cent — live in the developing world, compared to 70 per cent 10 years ago. Most of these countries have kept their doors open to people in search of safety, and have shown a generosity that is often well beyond their means. I appeal to all Member States and our partners in civil society to do their utmost to support the nations and communities that have welcomed the forcibly displaced into their midst…”

The UNHCR’s 2014 Asylum Trends report indicates a 45 percent increase in asylum applications to industrialized nations recorded in 2014; that’s about 866,000 new applications over a 12-month period. This figure is the highest recorded number of asylum applications recorded in 20 years (the highest number of asylum seekers ever recorded was 900,000 in 1992).

Women and Girls

Women and girls consistently make up 48 percent of all refugees, and face unique additional challenges by being displaced. Even in refugee camps women face gender discrimination and threats including sexual assault, rape and trafficking. Limited supplies and lack of security often hit women and children in refugee camps the hardest. Being “stateless” is a situation many women and children refugees often find themselves in. Statelessness refers to a person who has no recognized nationality. Women who may have lost their spouses to conflict or displacement may be deemed stateless because the nationality of a woman in many conflict stricken countries is tied to that of the husband by marriage. The U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women writes, “Women can thus become stateless if the law of their country foresees that a woman’s nationality is automatically lost upon marriage to a foreigner and the law of the husband’s country states that she cannot acquire her husband’s nationality on the basis of marriage; if her husband changes his nationality, becomes stateless or dies or where a marriage ends in divorce, the woman loses her nationality.” Stateless status makes applying for asylum a much more difficult process, which allows for greater complications and more time to stay in camps without permanent status.

Fortunately, organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) and the UNHCR have been working diligently to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers by pushing for policies that would help to ease their burdens and give some semblance of normal life. Historically the plight of women and children refugees has not taken center stage, but greater awareness and developments the 21st century have sought to correct this issue. In 2000, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) on women, peace and security. This historic resolution calls on the U.N. Secretary General, countries that are members of the U.N. and all parties to armed conflict to address the distinct impact of armed conflict on women and to recognize women's vital role in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace building. SCR 1325 has increased awareness in the international community of the needs of women and girls affected by conflict and their contributions to stabilizing communities and fostering reconciliation.

U.S. Legislation

Progressive U.S. legislators have not ignored the growing problem of increasing world refugees and asylum seekers, and have proposed legislation aimed at helping these vulnerable populations. H.R. 52 – Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2015, introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, assists refugees and those seeking asylum by:

  1. Eliminating the one-year filing requirement for asylum applicants
  2. Including gender persecution within the particular social group category of persecution
  3. Amending the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to provide increased protections and eligibility for family-sponsored immigrants
The rising number of refugees and asylum seekers is call for alarm and a new approach to solving conflicts in our time. As we join together on June 20 in solidarity and recognition of World Refugee Day, we must call upon our communities and lawmakers to tackle this growing issue before it is too late.

Posted or updated: 6/19/2015 11:00:00 PM
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Suggested Pages:

*Immigration Justice

*Action Alerts

Take Action:

  • Contact your congressional representative (Congressional Switchboard: 202-224-3121) and urge them to support H.R. 52 - Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2015 to help provide safety, security and much needed resources to refugees and their families.
  • Read “Global Migration and the Quest for Justice,” #6028, pages 731 – 741; and “Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes,” #6150, pages 883 – 889, in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2012).
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