World Refugee Day inspires calls to EU leaders ahead of summit

Despite the refugee crisis continuing, particularly in camps in Greece (pictured) and Italy, the V4 countries remain opposed to mandatory relocation. [Giannis Papanikos/ Shutterstock]

The UN’s World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June. This year, politicians and NGOs issued messages to EU leaders ahead of a summit on 22-23 June, which will partly focus on measures to stem the migration flow on the Central Mediterranean route.

On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly decided that 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day.

Each year on this day the UN, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and countless civic groups host events in order to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution.

According to the EU, over 65.6 million people worldwide are in need of protection and assistance as a consequence of forced displacement. Forcibly displaced populations include refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and asylum-seekers.

Globally in 2017, over 40.3 million people are internally displaced as a result of conflict, while 22.5 million are refugees and 2.8 million are asylum-seekers. An estimated 31.1 million people were internally displaced in 2016 alone due to conflicts and natural disasters; this is the equivalent of one displaced person every second. 51% of the global refugee population are children under 18 – the highest proportion in a decade.

In Europe, which has been dealing with an unprecedented refugee crisis, lines are often blurred between refugees and economic migrants. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary benefitted from generous asylum practice by the West during the communist but their current leaders refuse to take in any refugees.

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Germany tops the list of the EU countries that have received the largest number of Syrian asylum-seekers but these numbers look modest compared to the efforts of countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

EU policy now is to better control the bloc’s external borders and to engage in partnerships with transit countries such as Libya to stem the migrant flows and break up the business model of the human traffickers.

But the impression remains that the EU is closing its doors both to migrants and refugees, and that its seeks to subcontract the burden to poorer countries, often unable to enforce minimum standards of dignity for the people in search of protection.

Caritas Europa, an NGO close to the Catholic Church, has called on EU leaders to seize the opportunity to gain strong global leadership on asylum and migration during the European Council on 22-23 June.

“The position of the Catholic Church is clear, we cannot continue looking away when people are so desperate that they are ready to put their children’s and their own life at risk to reach a better life,” said Msgr. Luc Van Looy, president of Caritas Europa.

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) raised the issue of the difficulties that refugees and asylum-seekers face in finding work and opportunities in Europe.

The federation says that labour market integration of these new migrants is vital, not only for their social inclusion, but also for Europe’s economic and political cohesion.

The Regional Housing Programme, an initiative financed by the international community covering the Western Balkans, shone a spotlight on the fact that the Yugoslav wars left injuries that have not healed yet.

“More than 3 million people have been displaced within and beyond the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia due to the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and two decades on, ten thousands of people still remain displaced throughout the region,” the organisation said in a statement.

Many NGOs warn that women and children refugees in different geographical areas face significant problems.

World Vision, a Christian relief development advocacy organisation, reminded EU leaders of their obligation to support Uganda, responding to massive refugee displacements coming from neighbouring countries, particularly from South Sudan.

World Vision estimates 100 unaccompanied South Sudanese children cross the border into Uganda each day. Once they arrive, they’re safe from war but vulnerable to other forms of violence like child marriage.

“World Vision is facilitating interim foster care for these unaccompanied children. Suitable refugee families are identified as temporary guardians and we continue to monitor the child’s well-being,” said Gilbert Kamanga, national director for World Vision Uganda.