What is World Refugee Day?

 what is world refugee day

June 20, 2017: World Refugee Day is a day celebrated around the globe to honor the strength and resilience of refugees.

Refugees are individuals who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution, war, violence, and famine. For many of us, when we hear the word “refugee”, we think of the most vulnerable individuals in the world – images of the boy on the beach in Syria or a starving child somewhere in a camp in Africa. But the word “refugee” means much more than that – it also represents strength, courage, and the human capacity to succeed.

When is World Refugee Day?

World Refugee Day is celebrated each year on June 20th. Communities across the United States now hold World Refugee Day events throughout the month of June.  The month of June is now also a time to raise awareness about the current refugee crisis. Today, there are more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II.

When was World Refugee Day started?

World Refugee Day was started by a United Nations Declaration in 2000. The first World Refugee Day was celebrated in 2001, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees (the legal document that protected refugees after World War II).

How do different countries celebrate World Refugee Day around the globe?

Many countries honor World Refugee Day by illuminating major landmarks. In the past, this has included the lighting (typically in blue) of the Colosseum in Rome, the Eifel Tower in Paris, the Tokyo Building in Japan, and the United Nations building in Switzerland.

What can I do in honor of World Refugee Day?

Here are three things you can do:

  1. Share your story of how knowing a refugee has made your life better.

    In honor of World Refugee Day 2017, the Refugee Center Online is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.  If you know, work, or are friends with a refugee, submit your story about how it’s made your life better and we may feature it on our blog. 

  2. Advocate for newcomers in your community.

    Refugee Council USA, the national network of organizations that lead refugee resettlement in the United States, has prepared a World Refugee Day toolkit to help you advocate for newcomers. You can also visit StandWithRefugees.US to be directly connected to your representatives.

  3. Take our free online course Welcoming Our Newest Neighbors.

    The course is short and easy – it takes less than two hours – and will prepare you to better work, volunteer, or simply make friends with refugees in your own community. The course offers practical tips and provides useful information on trauma, interacting with English Language Learners, and the resettlement process. When you finish, search our In Your City database to find a local organization to volunteer your time.

What can my community do?

In the United States, many communities host events, fairs, music festivals, film screenings and other events in honor of World Refugee Day. If you live in a large city, there is probably already an event being planned by your local resettlement agencies, church, or community groups. You can search for an event in your community on the map below (created by the US Conference for Catholic Bishops). If you cannot find an event in your community, consider planning one. You can use this guide from Welcoming America or you can just do something small like hosting a global dinner with your friends and spending a few minutes talking about why it’s important to support and welcome refugees.

Featured World Refugee Day event: Portland World Cup Soccer

One wonderful event and promising practice we admire is Portland, Oregon’s World Cup Soccer, which brings together newcomer youth and the community. Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) launched Portland World Cup Soccer in 2010.  The main goal of the annual, and widely anticipated, Portland World Cup Soccer Tournament is use this global game as an international draw for people who are new to Portland – and to the United States.  Sports in general, and soccer in particular, help foster intercultural dialogue and connections. The tournament and the Parks for New Portlanders program also connect newcomers to public services and resources, and to the broader Oregon community to which they now belong.

Som Subedi, one of the founders of the tournament, said, “For New Portlanders, love of soccer crosses geographic and cultural borders and helps people in an unfamiliar place engage with Portland’s culture and communities. It connects non-English speaking parents with crucial services and resources. For young soccer players, teams provide community and valuable social support, encouraging positive choices during the transition to a new life.  The soccer tournament itself is a celebration of turning challenges into opportunities, and building unity from difference.” Som is a refugee himself and understands first-hand the challenges that confront people who are new to our county, as well as the many assets they bring with them to make our communities better.

The 2016 tournament included 28 teams representing more than 30 countries, 30 languages, and 500 players between the ages of 15 and 20. One neat part about the event is that local police and fire fighters volunteer as coaches for the newcomer teams. The Refugee Center Online is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Portland, Oregon and we are proud of this tradition in our community.

Portland World Cup Soccer
Portland World Cup Soccer helps refugees feel welcome in the community. Photo courtesy of MultCo Global.

World Refugee Day is a time to celebrate the strengths of individuals who have come to our country and made it a better place.

Refugees shaking hands

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