June 20 is World Refugee Day
World War II not only left millions of innocent civilians dead, it also left millions of innocent civilians without a homeland. Following this tragic world war, survivor nations came together to found the United Nations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, was established in December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.
UNHCR’s mandate distinguishes it from other humanitarian actors, requiring it to provide international protection to refugees who do not enjoy the protection of their governments. It also recognizes that international cooperation and support are needed to complement the efforts of the host country, which bears the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of refugees.
In 1951, the UN hosted a refugee convention, establishing protocols to assist the refugees in Europe—victims of World War II. In 1967, the UN expanded its protocol to extend beyond those initial temporal and geographic restrictions, and the United States was a signatory to the expanded 1967 UN Protocol.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) explains that:
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They are the only global legal instruments explicitly covering the most important aspects of a refugee’s life. According to their provisions, refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.
The 1951 Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non-refoulement. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.
The rights contained in the 1951 Convention 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.
Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.
The UN mandates rebuilding lives in peace and dignity, and in that context, UNHCR provides legal protection for refugees and seeks long-lasting solutions to their problems, by helping them either return voluntarily to their homes or settle in other countries. Its objective is to help refugees and other forcibly displaced persons rebuild their lives in peace and dignity.
The agency aims to uphold the rights of all displaced people, including women, children, older persons and people living with disabilities. Its seeks to reunite them with their families, protect them from sexual exploitation, abuse, violence and military recruitment, and offers education and training, health services, etc.
At the end of 2017, the last available certified data, the UNHCR reported that 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. That was an increase of 2.9 million people over the previous year, and the world’s forcibly displaced population remained at a record high. This includes:
• 25.4 million refugees in the world—the highest ever seen;
• 40 million internally displaced people; and
• 3.1 million asylum-seekers.
On this June 20th, World Refugee Day, the Center for New North Carolinians joins with people and organizations around the world to honor the world’s refugees and to pledge our support toward helping these world citizens find homelands with peace and dignity.