Refugees: forced to flee for survival

A group of children and their families leave their home in Raqqa, a city in Syria where every day there is fighting and it has become too dangerous to live. (Zein Al-rifai / EFE)

Over 68 million people have been forced to flee their homes

World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20, a day to draw attention to the refugee crisis and raise awareness of the reality of millions of people around the world.

The population that escapes from the civil war in Syria, those who try to cross the Mediterranean fleeing from the wars in several regions of Africa or the thousands of Rohingya refugees persecuted by the government in Burma are part of this collective getting bigger and bigger every day.

Today, more than 68 million people have been forced to leave their homes to escape danger. Of these people, more than 25 million are refugees: it is the largest number of displaced people in modern history, according to UNHCR latest report, the United Nations Agency for Refugees.

The UNHCR map shows that more than 71 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. (

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who is outside of their country of origin for fear of persecution, conflict or widespread violence and, consequently, requires international protection.

According to the definition in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees are people who have left their homeland because they fear being “victims of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality or political opinions”.

What do countries do to help?

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1951 to provide legal protection to refugees, defining their rights and establishing a series of obligations that countries must fulfill to protect them. Throughout the world, 144 countries have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Once the status of “refugee” is granted, the countries are legally obliged to guarantee them a series of rights: the right to education, employment, housing and health, in addition to offering documentation that will help legalize their situation.

Many Spanish city councils have joined the ‘Refugees Welcome’ campaign. (Xavier Gómez)

The problem is that the countries that should be welcoming displaced people are actually not doing so, because they fear being overwhelmed by the massive arrival of people seeking asylum. Given the attitude of governments, many citizens have organized themselves through social initiatives to help refugees.

What is the UNHCR and What does it do?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an international organization responsible for protecting refugees and displaced by conflicts. It was created in 1950, after WW2, with the aim of helping more than one million European refugees who had been displaced by the war.

UNHCR can not force countries to act, but it does carry out awareness campaigns, raise funds to help refugees and develop projects on the ground in emergency situations. It also provides refugees with shelter, nutrition, health care and educational resources.

We are all Refugees

The current emergency situation, with more than 67 million refugees and displaced people around the world, is the biggest humanitarian crisis since WW2 (1939-1945). And we don’t seem that we have learned much since then.

Well beyond the figures, we need to know the history of these people: where they come from, what their homes were like, how they lived before they had to flee … Only then will we realize that we can all be refugees.

So, if we were to swap roles and you were in their place, what would you do and what would you expect them to do?

Translated by Chaplin’s Languages | Find out more in Junior Report



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Llicenciada en Traducció i Periodisme per la Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Actualment és redactora en cap de Junior Report. Ha treballat a l’Agencia EFE, al diari ARA i com a traductora i periodista 'freelance' en diferents mitjans.


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