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  • Writer's pictureDebra DeLaet

World Refugee Day: Hope away from Home

World Refugee Day: Hope away from Home By Debra DeLaet (Executive Director, Iowa United Nations Association)

World Refugee Day, celebrated on June 20 each year, offers us an opportunity to recognize the strength and courage of people who have been forced to leave their home countries to flee violent conflict or persecution. While recognizing the resilience of refugees, World Refugee Day also invites us to consider how we can advocate for robust international refugee policies and offer support to refugees in our own communities.

The world is currently facing unprecedented levels of forced displacement. According to UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), over 108 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2022. The majority of forcibly displaced persons (over 62 million) are internally displaced persons living within their countries of origin. Currently, over 29 million people meet the definition of refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention and fall under the UNHCR’s mandate. An additional 5.9 million Palestinian refugees fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which has provided relief and humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees since it was established by the UN General Assembly in 1948. In addition to individuals who have received formal status as refugees, there are an additional 5.4 million asylum-seekers whose requests for sanctuary have not yet been formally processed.

According to UNHCR data, the majority (52%) of forcibly displaced persons currently are from three countries—Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan. The vast majority—76%-- of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons are hosted in middle- and low-income countries. Approximately 70% of refugees and other persons in need of international protection are displaced in neighboring countries adjacent to their countries of origin. The top 5 host countries for refugees are Turkey, Iran, Columbia, Germany, and Pakistan. Although forcible displacement affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, 40% of all forcibly displaced persons are children, despite the fact that children constitute only 30% of the world’s population.

Formally known as the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR provides critical support to forcibly displaced persons in countries all over the world. Initially established by the UN General Assembly in 1950 to address the refugee crisis following World War II, UNHCR currently operates in 137 countries. UNHCR provides humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, water, and medical care for forcibly displaced persons. The organization works with countries to improve refugee and asylum policies with an emphasis on human rights standards.

Despite the importance of its work, UNHCR does not have a significant permanent line in the UN budget. It receives a modest subsidy of one percent from the UN regular budget to cover administrative costs. Otherwise, it depends upon voluntary contributions to carry out its lifesaving work. UNHCR is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, with 76% of these contributions coming from governments and the European Union. An addition 21% of contributions come from the private sector, including foundations, corporations, and private individuals. The remaining 3% of UNHCR funding comes from other intergovernmental organizations and pooled funding mechanisms. Due to growing levels of forced displacement globally, UNHCR’s budget has grown from $300,000 in 1950 to $10.7 billion in 2022. The financial needs of UNHCR are likely to continue to grow with the unprecedented scale of forced displacement globally, needs that are compounded by violent conflicts like the war in Ukraine and humanitarian crises like the floods in Pakistan. The climate crisis also will increase the burdens on UNHCR as it strives to respond to growing numbers of climate refugees. You can learn more about UNHCR’s current financial needs at the organization’s Global Focus website.

The 2023 theme of World Refugee Day is hope away from home. UNHCR encourages advocates to provide hope to refugees by including them in the communities where they have been given refuge. The state of Iowa has been a leader in refugee resettlement with a long history of welcoming refugees from many different countries and cultures. Consistent with UNHCR’s call for us to include refugees in our communities, we encourage all Iowans to learn about refugees and immigrants in Iowa. We also encourage you to support Iowa organizations working with refugees in your own cities and communities, including Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa, Lutheran Services International (LSI) Immigrant and Refugee Community Services, and EMBARC. Individual counties also maintain their own list of immigrant and refugee resources, and we encourage members to research organizations and resources in their own areas.

One of the most important ways to provide hope on World Refugee Day is to support the organizations working to provide relief and humanitarian assistance to individuals fleeing violence and persecution. You can make a donation to support the work of UNHCR through USA for UNHCR. You also can urge your representatives to support the vital work of UNHCR and to support generous refugee policies here.

Iowa UNA is grateful to have many refugees among our members. We hope our members will work to provide hope away from home to the refugees in their communities. Thank you for your advocacy! Stand #WithRefugees #HopeAwayFromHome #UNHCR

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