The Right to Seek Safety | Sunday Observer
World Refugee Day falls tomorrow:

The Right to Seek Safety

19 June, 2022

Each year on June 20, the world celebrates World Refugee Day. This year, the focus will be on the “Right to Seek Safety.” Every person on this planet has a right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee.

World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations (UN) to honour refugees around the globe. It falls each year on June 20 and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. World Refugee Day is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognise their resilience in rebuilding their lives.

Right to seek safety

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.

Accordingly, these people have the Right to seek asylum. Anyone fleeing persecution, conflict, or human rights abuses has a right to seek protection in another country. Borders should remain open to all people forced to flee.

Restricting access and closing borders (as many countries did during the pandemic period) can make the journey even more dangerous for people seeking safety.

People cannot be forced to return to a country if their life or freedom would be at risk. This means that countries should not push anyone back without first evaluating the dangers they would face back home. Unfortunately, this is done by many EU countries.

Fair consideration needed

People should not be discriminated against at borders. All applications for refugee status must be given fair consideration, regardless of factors like race, religion, gender and country of origin.

People who are forced to flee their own country for whatever reason must be treated with respect and dignity.

They are entitled to safe and dignified treatment like any human being. Among other things, this means keeping families together, protecting people from traffickers, and avoiding arbitrary detention.

World Refugee Day shines a light on the rights, needs and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilise political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive.

While it is important to protect and improve the lives of refugees every single day, international days like World Refugee Day help to focus global attention on the plight of those fleeing conflict or persecution.

The UNHCR most recently estimated that, by mid-2021, for the first time in recorded history, the number of people forcibly displaced is now 84 million, and over 26.6 million refugees. An estimated 35 million (42 percent) of the 82.4 million forcibly displaced people are children below 18 years of age (end-2020). More than 73 percent of refugees lived in countries neighbouring their countries of origin. Every minute 20 people leave everything behind in their own countries to escape war, persecution or terror. There are several types of forcibly displaced persons:


A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters. The current war in Ukraine has resulted in more than one million people becoming refugees in neighbouring countries.

Asylum seekers

Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled. Currently, there are around 5 million asylum seekers around the world.

Internally Displaced Persons

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country. This phenomenon was witnessed in Sri Lanka too during the conflict years. There are around 40 million IDPs around the world.

Stateless persons

Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country. Data on some 4.3 million stateless people residing in 93 countries was reported at mid-2021. The true global figure is estimated to be significantly higher.

Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Their lack of identification — a citizenship certificate or a Passport — can exclude them from access to important Government services, including health care, education or employment.


Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after some time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives at home. Some 126,700 refugees returned to their countries of origin during the first half of 2021 while 16,300 were resettled (with or without UNHCR’s assistance)

Many activities held on World Refugee Day around the world create opportunities to support refugees.


World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was originally known as Africa Refugee Day, before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) officially designated it as an international day in December 2000.

Each year, World Refugee Day is marked by a variety of events in many countries in support of refugees. These activities are led by or involve refugees themselves, Government officials, host communities, companies, celebrities, school children and the general public, among others.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), girls and boys under the age of 18 account for 42 percent of all forcibly displaced people.

Almost one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Each number represents a real person, a girl or boy, woman or man, whose life has suddenly and through no fault of their own been torn apart. Many of them may remain refugees for years to come.

As conflict rages on around the world, an interesting fact remains that more than two-thirds of all people who fled abroad came from just five countries – Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. The majority of refugees are hosted by countries neighboring crisis areas and low and middle-income countries.

The least developed countries provided asylum to 27 percent of the total. Turkey hosted the largest refugee population worldwide, followed by Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, Germany (after it accepted around 1.5 million refugees from Syria) and Kenya.

Resettlement places

Although countries and humanitarian organisations are continuing their efforts to address the issue of refugees, irregular migration remains a challenge.

The UNHCR promotes voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement as solutions.

For those who cannot return, either because of continued conflict, wars or persecution, resettlement in another country is one viable alternative. However, resettlement places made available by third countries remain very limited globally and some countries hardly accept refugees, even though they may accept legal migrants such as professionals from developing nations.

Irregular migration has also been causing countries to adopt illegal methods of pushing refugees back or to fail to allow them entry. Many people fleeing conflict and persecution are undertaking dangerous journeys and using smugglers to reach safety.

Developed countries need to intensify their efforts to increase opportunities for those in need of protection to access legal alternatives to unsafe journeys.

Countries could increase resettlement, establish community-based sponsorship of refugees, provide for humanitarian admission, facilitate family reunification and enhance other visa entry programs such as for health, scholarship or work.

Today, there is a lot of antagonism towards refugees and even legal migrants in many parts of the world. Many world leaders have taken an anti-refugee and anti- migrant stance, mainly to pacify the majority communities in their respective countries.

There is a tendency to blame all ills of the economy and other sectors on migrants of whatever variety.

Hostility towards refugees and migrants is unfortunately growing around the world. Thus solidarity with all migrants has never been more urgent.

The stark reality is that we are all migrants. Migration is the very foundation of humanity. The first humanoids are believed to have migrated from what is now East Africa nearly 120,000 years ago to other parts of Africa and the world. In essence, human history is actually a story of migration.

A sense of exploration and yearning to find what lay over the horizon took humans to other parts of the world.

Major issue

The number of international migrants has increased from an estimated 175 million in 2000 to 258 million in 2017.

The number of migrants including refugees, representing 3.4 percent of the world’s population, is increasing faster than the global population, driven by inequality, violence, conflict and Climate Change. More than 60,000 people have died on the move since the year 2000, according to the UN.

Illegal migration and refugees have become a major issue in many countries, to the point where extremist political parties have sprung up to “protect the borders” of their respective countries against a perceived “alien invasion.” These parties spread fear and suspicion about immigrants and refugees among the native population.

The flow of refugees and asylum seekers, though not a new phenomenon by any means, is re-defining the world we live in. It is essentially a two-way street.

Developing countries must do more to resolve conflicts within their borders and create opportunities for youth within their boundaries which will dampen the enthusiasm to seek safety in other countries. Destination countries too must be more compassionate towards the plight of genuine refugees fleeing conflict and persecution while balancing their national interests and resources. The world will be a better place to live in if we can all get along.