World Refugee Day: a History

In the year 2000, a lot of things happened. George W. Bush became president. Kevin Spacey won Best Actor for American Beauty. But maybe the best part of the year 2000, besides all of us surviving Y2K, was that World Refugee Day was founded on December 4.

The U.N declared that June 20th would henceforth be known as World Refugee Day. Resolution 55/76 of the United Nations General Assembly established this day of observance, and also noted the 50th anniversary of the 1951 convention relating to refugee status issues. The day’s purpose is to examine the ongoing plight of refugees worldwide, and to continuously work towards resolving these global issues.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) meets every year on June 20, alongside many civic organizations, to drum up public awareness for issues of the internationally displaced. Angelina Jolie is perhaps the most famous UNHCR Global Ambassador; she traveled to Sierra Leone and Tanzania after filming Tomb Raider in Cambodia. Jolie’s experiences there shifted her focus to humanitarian endeavors. She has since adopted children from all over the world with her husband, Brad Pitt.

Millions of people worldwide are forced to flee their homes due to wars and conflict. There are currently about 50 million displaced persons relating to conflicts such as the ongoing crisis in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. There isn’t just one “face” of a refugee. The sudden necessity to escape one’s native country, with nothing but hope to keep you sane and alive, is the scary reality of refugees. Once a refugee has found asylum in another nation, they must rebuild their lives from scratch. This fosters deep friendships between immigrants who are from the same place.

“With 86 percent of all refugees living in the developing world, and with the humanitarian response system increasingly overstretched, international solidarity and burden-sharing are crucial in meeting the needs of displaced communities as well as their hosts,” said Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. Secretary, in his General Message for World Refugee Day 2015.

“Refugees led ordinary lives before becoming displaced, and their biggest dream is to be able to live normally again. On this World Refugee Day, let us recall our common humanity, celebrate tolerance and diversity and open our hearts to refugees everywhere.”

Here at home, we will be celebrating World Refugee Day on Saturday May 28. The festivities commence at 8 a.m and last until 8 p.m at JH Williams Park on Vulcan St. There will be a soccer tournament, ethnic food (is there any more reason you need to attend?!), the requisite kids activities, plus boatloads of cultural entertainment. RSVP by emailing Check out the Facebook page World Refugee Day in Western New York for updates.

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