Published on: June 21, 2022



Why in news? 

The United Nations has designated June 20 as World Refugee Day to honour forcibly displaced people all around the world and celebrate their strength and courage.

  • For the 2022 edition of World Refugee Day, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has decided to focus on the right of refugees to seek safety.

Who is a refugee?

  • The UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who flees their home country due to violence, conflict or persecution. Race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group are the most common reasons of persecution due to which people flee their homelands.
  • A closely related category is that of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – those who are on the run due to armed conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations, but within their own country.
  • According to the UNHCR, 69% of refugees displaced across borders are from just five conflict-ridden countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar.

To highlight the refugees’ right to seek safety, the UNHCR is focusing on three key areas:

  • Whoever they are, people forced to flee should be treated with dignity. Anyone can seek protection, regardless of who they are or what they believe. It is non-negotiable: seeking safety is a human right.
  • Wherever they come from, people forced to flee should be welcomed. Refugees come from all over the globe. To get out of harm’s way, they might take a plane, a boat, or travel on foot. What remains universal is the right to seek safety.
  • Whenever people are forced to flee, they have a right to be protected. Whatever the threat – war, violence, persecution – everyone deserves protection. Everyone has a right to be safe.

What is the 1951 UN Refugee Convention?

  • The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1951 and forms the crux of international refugee protection today. The convention is grounded in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which states that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries . The convention also highlights non-refoulement – not returning refugees or asylum seekers to a country where their freedom or lives are threatened.
  • The 1951 convention originally only applied to people who fled due to events that occurred before January 1, 1951, and within Europe. An amendment in the form of a 1967 Protocol removed these limitations and made the Refugee Convention applicable globally.

Highlights of the 2021 UNHCR report

  • In line with the trend seen in the last decade, the number of refugees recorded in 2021 was at an all-time high. The UNHCR 2021 report on global trends puts the number of refugees at 27.1 million, with 83% of those hosted in low and middle-income countries. Low-income countries host approximately a quarter of the world’s refugees and are expected to be disproportionately affected by rising inflation.
  • Syrians continue to be the most displaced population – around 6.8 million people of the country were displaced by the end of 2021.
  • Globally, 67% of refugees and asylum seekers and 82% of IDPs originated from/in countries affected by a food crisis in 2021. Around 40% of refugees and asylum seekers were hosted by countries facing food crises at the end of 2021.
  • Between February 24, 2022, and June 16, 2022, more than 7.7 million border crossings have been recorded from Ukraine, turning Russia’s invasion of the country into one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. Over five million individual refugees have been recorded just across Europe. More than seven million Ukrainians are currently displaced within the country.
  • Venezuelans continue to leave their home country to escape violence, insecurity and threats, and shortages of food, medicine and other essential services. Displacement from the country has become the second-largest external displacement crisis globally, with over six million Venezuelan refugees and migrants present around the world.

Climate change

  • According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 23 million were estimated to have been displaced within their countries in 2021 by extreme weather events like floods and droughts. As global temperatures rise, climate change is expected to create an even larger number of refugees. The UNHCR report, however, notes that the impact of climate change on displacement is not uniform. It includes:
    • sudden onset events like storms, floods and wildfires that usually cause a temporary displacement limited to within a country
    • Slow onset events like droughts and sea-level rise that can lead to eventual permanent forced migration.
  • climate change-related conflict that can include competition for essential resources like water and a shortage of food crops

Asylum Seekers

  • In 2021, the number of new individual asylum applications registered globally increased by 25% to 1.4 million from 1.1 million. This was, however, still less than pre-pandemic levels. Unaccompanied or separated children (UASC) accounted for two percent of new asylum claims.
  • The U.S. was the most popular choice among refugees to seek asylum, followed by Germany, Mexico, Costa Rica, and France.