Each year the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM), along with its partners, commemorates 20 June as World Refugee Day. This event honors the courage, strength, and resilience of millions of men, women, and children who are forced to flee their homes because of persecution, conflict, and violence.
Indeed, more people than ever are forcibly displaced today. In 2016 the world witnessed the number of refugees grow by 3.4 million, bringing the total number to a staggering 22.5 million.
From our work at UNU-GCM, we know that refugees and asylum-seekers often confront overwhelming obstacles.
Many times refugee women and girls are fleeing situations that involve forms of gender-based violence, only to encounter exploitation, sexual harassment, and abuse during their journeys, and in camps. In order to better ensure the rights of female refugees, their physical safety must be protected throughout their journey and upon arrival. When governments fulfill the rights of refugee women, they are better included in receiving countries and empowered to make valuable contributions to their new communities.
Despite the efforts of host communities to welcome refugees, many routinely face prejudice and xenophobia. Around the world, countries appear increasingly wary of admitting refugees. Borders have been tightened, and detention is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Even so, there are some hopeful signs. Our research has consistently found that the promotion of intercultural values, among hosts and refugees, promotes solidarity and increases the social, political, and economic opportunities of both groups.
Contemporary refugee experiences have increasingly become urban in character. Contrary to widespread perceptions that refugees live in camps, over 60% of the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Policies are shifting towards providing for refugees in urban areas, and supporting them to rebuild their own lives with greater independence, alongside diverse urban communities. In some cases, municipalities themselves express openness to refugees, and are working to find localized ways to support and integrate them in urban life. However, in a number of contexts, urban refugees remain invisible and experience exclusion and precarious conditions of life.
The line between refugees and migrants is often blurred. Millions of people currently live in situations that defy conventional definitions of migrant and refugee. Violence and exploitation are the hallmarks of many journeys.
It is our hope that the work of the United Nations and its Member States will continue to improve the wellbeing of refugees and asylum-seekers. UNU-GCM aims to continue contributing to these efforts.