World Refugee Day – 20 June

Refugee Day

World Refugee Day

20 June

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“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..”

Ban Ki-moon


Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland

Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland on 01 March 1999
UN Photo/UNHCR/R LeMoyne

For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries.

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.

This year, Over twenty celebrities from around the world have released a series of 30 second videos supporting refugees as part of a coordinated campaign for this year’s World Refugee Day.


Refugees at Levels Not Seen Since World War II

JUNE 20, 2014

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Displaced residents of Mosul, Iraq, receiving food aid this week. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

GENEVA — The number of people displaced by violent conflict hit the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, António Guterres, said in a report released on Friday, warning, “Peace is dangerously in deficit.”

Pushed up dramatically by the war in Syria, the total number of people displaced by violence reached more than 51 million at the end of 2013, according to the agency’s annual Global Trends report. This included 33.3 million people who fled violence but remained in their own country and 16.7 million refugees who fled to neighboring countries, it said.

“We are not facing an increasing trend, we are really facing a quantum leap,” Mr. Guterres told reporters in Geneva, noting that close to 11 million people were newly displaced in 2013. Half the world’s population of displaced people are children, he added, the highest level in a decade.

“There is no humanitarian response able to solve the problems of so many people,” he warned. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to find the capacity and resources to deal with so many people in such tragic circumstances.”

Syrian children at a refugee camp in eastern Lebanon on Thursday. Credit Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

The number of refugees who had fled across borders by the end of 2013 was a fraction of the tens of millions of refugees left at the end of World War II and lower even than in 1993, when conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Mozambique swelled the global refugee population to over 16 million, refugee agency records show.

But when combined with those fleeing to other places within their own countries to escape violence, the total number of displaced people reached a level unprecedented since the war, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency.

The agency looked at records from the wars in Korea, the Middle East, Vietnam and southern Asia and found that “none had comparable levels of displacement” with what the agency is now reporting, Mr. Edwards said.

Alexander Betts, a professor of refugee studies at Oxford University, said in a telephone interview, “It’s certainly an unprecedented number since the end of World War II.” He added that the total reflected shifts in the patterns of conflict and in counting methodologies. In the postwar and Cold War years, when conflicts were largely between states, international agencies counted as refugees only those fleeing across borders.

Internally displaced populations were not counted until the early 1990s, when the United Nations refugee agency recognized them as an area of concern. Until 2005, the number of internally displaced hovered around the five million mark, agency records show. But it has risen dramatically with a sharp escalation of internal insurgencies in this century.

Africa, which with Syria accounts for most of the world’s internally displaced, had more continuing conflicts in 2012 than at any other time since World War II, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center in Geneva reported last year. The number more than doubled in four years, from 15 million people in 2009 to more than 33 million in 2013.

Conflicts this year in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and now Iraq threaten to push levels of displacement even higher by the end of 2014, Mr. Guterres said.

“The international community today has very limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find timely solutions,” Mr. Guterres said. “We see the Security Council paralyzed in many crucial crises.”

To make matters worse, the consequences of past conflicts “never seem to die,” Mr. Guterres said. Over six million people have been in exile for five years or more, and the number of refugees returning to their countries in 2013, 414,000, was one of the lowest in years, the refugee agency reported. Just 98,400 people were taken in for resettlement by other countries.

In addition to refugees, more than 1.1 million people applied for asylum in 2013, the highest number in a decade, Mr. Guterres reported.

He was quick to puncture any illusion that developed countries of the North were hosting most of the world’s refugees, despite mounting anxiety in Western countries over the flow of migrants to their shores.

“The truth is that 86 percent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries,” he said, a much higher proportion than 10 years ago. “The trend is not only to have more and more refugees but more and more refugees in the developing world.”


U.S. Gives Thailand and Malaysia Lowest Grade on Human Trafficking

JUNE 20, 2014

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HONG KONG — Thailand and Malaysia are among the two dozen countries doing the least to fight human trafficking, according to a State Department report released Friday, a finding that could lead to economic and diplomatic penalties.

The downgrade to so-called Tier 3 status, the lowest ranking, places the Southeast Asian countries alongside North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe in the eyes of the State Department, which publishes an annual report assessing efforts by the world’s governments to combat human trafficking. Thailand now ranks below its neighbor Myanmar, a former Tier 3 country whose rating has improved since it began moving toward democracy in recent years.

Related Coverage

Recent reports by The Guardian and others have described the use of forced labor in Thailand’s seafood industry, often involving complicity on the part of Thai officials. In a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles last year, Reuters reported that Thai officials had been involved in selling Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar to human-trafficking rings, which sometimes sold them into servitude on fishing boats. The Thai Navy, some of whose personnel were implicated, has filed a lawsuit accusing two journalists of criminal defamation for publishing an excerpt from one of the Reuters articles.

This week, a British researcher, Andy Hall, was detained by a Thai court and had his passport confiscated in connection with criminal defamation charges brought by a Thai food company. Mr. Hall, who was freed on bail, had spoken to Al Jazeera about abusive treatment of migrant workers by the company, Natural Fruit, which Mr. Hall had documented for a Finnish nongovernmental organization. The State Department report calls for such prosecutions of journalists and researchers to cease.

In Malaysia, the report said, many migrant workers are exploited and subjected to practices associated with forced labor, including restrictions on movement, wage fraud, passport confiscation and fees imposed by recruitment agents or employers. Many foreign women recruited for ostensibly legal work in Malaysia are subsequently coerced into prostitution, the report said.

Because both Thailand and Malaysia had been in a Tier 2 “watch list” category for four consecutive years, both were due for automatic downgrades to Tier 3 this year unless the State Department judged that they had made significant strides in addressing their trafficking problems.

China, which was downgraded to Tier 3 status a year ago, was moved back up a level, to the Tier 2 watch list, in the new report.

Thailand has recently argued that its efforts have improved enough for it to avoid a downgrade. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a news release this week that it had substantially more trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions and convictions last year than in 2012. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai ambassador to the United States, said in the release that Thailand was “committed to eliminating this inhumane exploitation.”

Luis C. deBaca, ambassador at large at the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said Thailand had indeed shown some improvement, mainly in sex-trafficking cases. But very little progress has been made in prosecuting the widely documented abuses of migrant workers and official complicity in them, he said.

“There’s a reason why so many folks are looking at the abuses in the migrant population there over the last years,” Mr. deBaca said. “That’s an area that needs more policing, more enforcement.”

Mr. deBaca said it was too early to judge what Thailand’s military coup last month would mean for the country’s human-trafficking problem. The junta has said it will address the issue of undocumented workers in Thailand, including forced labor, but it has denied engaging in a violent crackdown on illegal migrants, fears of which have apparently prompted hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers to leave the country since last week.

A Tier 3 designation by the State Department does not automatically result in penalties, but the United States may withhold some forms of aid and cultural exchange, or oppose some kinds of assistance from international bodies like the International Monetary Fund.

Phil Robertson, the Bangkok-based deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the annual report was a motivating factor for governments in the region less because of the potential for sanctions than because of the embarrassment of “being grouped into the worst of the worst.”



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