World Refugee Day: Should we just celebrate it?

Well, today is 20th June 2004 and we are celebrating the World Refugee Day. Actually throughout history there have been several different dates for “Refugee Day” in different regions/continents of the world. One of them was Africa Refugee Day, which was celebrated on 20th June in several African countries. On 4th December 2000 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 55/76 to celebrate 20th June, from 2001 on, as World Refugee Day.

As I was looking for new stuff on the UNHCR web-pages regarding the International Refugee Day; i.e. latest facts and figures, statistics, recent policies of EU, USA or Africa with respect to the acceptance of refugees, I have unfortunately noticed that their World Refugee Day was just built on a very short “Kofi Annan” Speech, a calendar showing different activities in different countries and a very “cute” speech from the actor Angelina Jolie, who is nowadays a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador… Well, organising seminars/conferences/music festivals shouldn’t be activities that are specially held on World Refugee Day, but they should be held throughout the whole year not just to “remember” refugees, but also to create a “sustainable” public awareness in society. On the other hand I strongly believe that the policy makers, educators, NGOs and the public should be well informed on the latest facts and realities about refugees.

Unfortunately we don’t have a rosy picture of the World of Refugees in recent years:

Fact 1: UNITED for Intercultural Action points to the increase in refugee deaths. They have documented more than 5 000 recorded refugee deaths since 1993 of people connected with Fortress Europe, just in Europe. With the implementation of the Schengen Treaty, Dublin Convention, EU border policies and latest proposals in the EU-Draft-Constitution, we can clearly see that immigration and asylum rights have been made/ and will be made more “illegal” day by day. The dream of a Fortress Europe, led to the death of thousands of refugees who fled because of internal/external wars, poverty, abolition of human rights, violence or “just” natural disasters.
The Graph from Le Monde diplomatique (March 2004) shows a very clear fact that most of the refugee deaths either occur during the first contact with border guards or during police custody. This picture leads us spontaneously to the second fact.

Fact 2: In order to prevent the refugee deaths at the borders, professional training should be given to the border guards, reception centre officers and the police. Most of the refugee deaths happen due to; the bad treatment/violence at the borders; returning of the refugees, without the implementation of an official border control procedure; the bad/non-humanitarian conditions in the reception centres, where asylum seekers must spend a long time before receiving the official acceptance/ rejection of the host country. In addition to the governmental representatives there should be representatives of NGOs, international refugee organisations and psychologists that are more sensitive to the vulnerable situation of asylum seekers.

Fact 3: The latest developments about the refugee policies of the European Union may lead to an increase in refugee deaths. It will now be possible to remove asylum applicants to countries outside the EU without processing their asylum claim at all, on the grounds that the EU considers this country to be “generally safe” for all asylum seekers and regardless of their particular circumstances.

These “generally safe” third countries might be the Russian Federation, Turkey, Romania or Bulgaria; although there are serious refugee protection concerns such as well equipped reception centres, trained border guards, accommodation, integration or adequate health services in these countries.

Fact 4: The last point I would like to mention is the rôle of integration in the prevention of refugee deaths. The increase in refugee suicides during a stay in a host country keynotes the fact mental depression experienced by the refugee during their stay in the host community is an issue to be dealt with. A feeling of “belonging” and “sharing” might prevent the isolation which can worsen such depression, with potentially tragic fatal results. Without the implementation of a proper integration process there will always be an increased risk that a refugee will enter the cycle of depression leading to them committing suicide.

Well, these are just a few facts showing several reasons for the increase in refugee deaths. We have celebrated another World Refugee Day but the picture still remains dark. The increase in deaths is just one side of this dark picture. But there are lots of ways to enliven this picture. The first step would be to accept the fact that, “No Human is Illegal” and to find a real humanitarian approach towards the realisation of immigration. Migration has always existed on Earth and will always be…It is not a problem, rather a reality of life…

“I don’t want to change you,

I just want to understand,

And I see as long as I know you,

I can love all of you too…”


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