A refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality, and is unable to or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”
More people around the world are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994, with the crisis in Syria having emerged as a major new factor in global displacement.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) annual Global Trends report released yesterday, ahead of World Refugee Day, shows that as at the end of 2012, more than 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement compared to 42.5 million at the end of 2011.
This includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries.
The report does not include the rise in those forced from their homes in Syria during the current year. Significant new internal displacement was seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
A full 55% of all refugees listed in UNHCR's report come from just five war-affected countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.
Afghanistan remained the world's biggest source of refugees, a position it has now held for 32 years, with 95% of Afghan refugees located in either Iran or Pakistan.
Somalis were the second biggest group of refugees in 2012, followed by Iraqis. Syrians were the fourth biggest group.
|Syrian refugees children (via www.un.org)|
The number of internally displaced persons is at the highest level in more than 20 years, with the war in Syria leading to 4.25m Syrians being internally displaced.
The UN says if current trends persist, a further two million people will have left Syria by the end of this year.
It also found that developing countries now hosted 81% of the world's refugees, 11% more than a decade ago.
Children below age 18 make up 46% of all refugees. In addition, a record 21,300 asylum applications submitted during 2012 were from children who were unaccompanied or separated from their parents. This is the highest number of unaccompanied or separated children that UNHCR has recorded.
"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," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR.
The report highlights worrisome trends, including the rate at which people are being forced into situations of displacement. During 2012 some 7.6 million people became newly displaced, 1.1 million as refugees and 6.5 million as internally displaced people. This translates to a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds.
"Each time you blink another person is forced to flee," Guterres said.
Of 10.5 million refugees under UNHCR's mandate -- a further 4.9 million Palestinian refugees fall under the mandate of its sister-agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
A refugee will always yearn to return. The key to the abandoned home is often the symbol of that hope.
My uncle, until he died before returning to Palestine, kept the key to his Haifa home hanging next to the front entrance of his Beirut residence. He would bring the key down before Sunday lunch to make sure it wasn’t rusty or anything.
It was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.
This year, UNHCR continues its award-winning "1" campaign with its first ever personal fundraising. It asks us to Take 1 minute to support a family forced to flee.
In 1 minute, a family can be torn apart by war, a child can be separated from his or her parents and a lifetime of work can be destroyed.
Yet in 1 minute, the world community can also act -- reuniting a family, protecting a child, providing shelter, UNHCR says.
|Kinan's page at UNHCR site|
|It takes 1 minute to lose everything... A Syrian refugee family (via UNHCR)|
The intolerance that is often at the root of internal displacement and refugee flows is also present in some of the countries refugees flee to. Instead of finding empathy and understanding, they are often met with mistrust or scorn.
The UN General Assembly, on 4 December 2000, adopted resolution 55/76 where it noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) had agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on 20 June. The General Assembly therefore decided that 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day.
Ahead of the G8 meeting in Ireland earlier this week, Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children, made an appeal to world leaders to save the children of Syria to coincide with World Refugee Day.
“Time is running out for millions of children across Syria,” Miles said. “The G8 leaders must send a strong signal to the world that the appalling humanitarian crisis in the country and region is a global priority. Aid agencies like Save the Children can only reach 10% of people we aim to help inside Syria.
“We urgently need better access; we know that children are being tortured, have little medical help and have witnessed family members being killed in front of them. Families are resorting to digging for food.
“G8 leaders must insist that all parties to the conflict allow full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Syria, including across conflict lines and across borders from neighboring countries. We cannot wait for a negotiated solution before help arrives.”
Becoming a refugee is not a choice that is made easily or willingly. As such, refugees deserve and should be accorded the respect and dignity to rebuild their lives.What is gone in 1 minute takes a lifetime to rebuild, if at all…