28 June 2012
World Refugee Day 2012:
“This report tells a human story of loss and tragedy. Despite its distance from these places of terrible suffering, Australia shares the responsibility to protect refugees. It can do this under the Refugee Convention by helping asylum-seekers who come to its shores and, also, through the generosity of its annual resettlement programme. In this way, Australia shows solidarity to those countries that bear the greater burden and responsibility of hosting millions of the world’s refugees.”
- UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle on the 2009 Global Trends Report
Another World Refugee Day has come and gone, so are things really changing here in Australia? The 2012 Theme for World Refugee Day was Refugees have no choice. You do. To coincide with this theme, the UNHCR has rolled out its striking new campaign Dilemmas, which aims to draw public attention to the tough choices facing refugees, and to help the public to empathise with and understand these choices and dilemmas.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, especially in the way the Australian media and government depict refugees and asylum seekers and the way language is used to convey the issue. All human beings have a right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, which makes refugee protection a universal and global responsibility. As a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and as a member of the international community, Australia shares in this responsibility. Click here for Amnesty International’s take on Refugees’ Human Rights and here to gain a deeper understanding of refugee populations across the globe.
The world’s refugee protection system was established in 1950 with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and then with the adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. UNHCR is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. See the UNHCR website for definitions and statistics on refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people.
Armed conflicts and political violence have led to civilians being caught in conflict zones, leaving refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people in protracted situations. The number of people displaced by natural disasters has multiplied in recent years, exceeding the number displaced by conflict. Climate change could increase this number by many millions in decades ahead. This was a key issue discussed at the Rio+20 Summit to ensure sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, and environmental protection.
The latest UNHCR report shows that one out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan, with 2.9 million – 96 per cent of whom are hosted in Pakistan and Iran. The other largest source countries for refugees included Iraq (1.8 million), Somalia (678,000), Democratic Republic of the Congo (456,000), and Myanmar (407,000). As in previous years, around four fifths of refugees are hosted in developing countries. Almost half (5.5 million) of the refugees under UNHCR’s care are in protracted situations, with the majority living as refugees for five years or more.
With World Refugee Day 2012 behind us, let’s hope that things are really changing here in Australia. We do have a choice. And we do have a say. For more information on the UNHCR’s role in protecting refugees rights, see the comprehensive Protecting Refugees and the UNHCR report. To find a Refugee Week event near you, see the Refugee Week website.
Written by Melissa Gillies, MPH Online Contributor.
Image sourced from the World Refugee Day website.