Today is World Refugee Day, a day to remember the struggles and strengths of refugees, to celebrate their contributions, and to recommit to supporting refugees and seeking their protection. The date June 20th was chosen as the date for World Refugee Day to commemorate the anniversary of the Geneva Convention of 1951 in which the term refugee was defined and the rights of displaced persons were outlined. In this agreement, 145 States agreed that states were legally obliged to protect and respect displaced persons and that refugees should not be returned to a country where their life is threatened.
Since 1993, UNITED for Intercultural Action (the European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants, refugees, and minorities) has monitored refugee deaths and compiled a list. Today, this list has been updated. This list includes those who have died while attempting to enter Europe, during state detention, and deportation. You can find and download the updated list on UNITED’s website.
As of now, this list documents over 33-thousand individuals since 1993. As this lists grows and the situation for refugees does not improve, the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. During the Second World War, countries closed their borders to the Jews and others fleeing war and violence. State-led propaganda campaigns in Europe and the Americas led to a culture of fearing refugees, and many of those who attempted to seek protection were turned away at borders.
Lessons from the Holocaust remind us to never forget, and particularly to remember not just numbers, but also the humanity– the names, faces, and stories of those who are suffering. What else does this mean for us in the IHRA community? To open our communities to those in need? To stand against propaganda targeting those who are most vulnerable?
On this International Refugee Day, take a moment to think, what does my commitment look like? Talking to a refugee in my community about their experience? Supporting refugee-based initiatives? Talking to my community and representatives about the experience of refugees past and present? Standing in solidarity with refugees from around the world?