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World Refugee Day: 5 Things you can do to make a difference

Celebrated on June 20th of each year, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have had to flee, show respect to their hope and courage to have rebuilt their lives in a new place. This commemorative day is now being celebrated in many countries to pay tribute to refugees, asylum seekers, displaced and stateless persons. The day is an open space for a variety of initiatives and events involving associations, locals and refugees. It aims to give everyone the means to understand the situation of refugees and the urgent need to protect and welcome them.

1 Take part in a World Refugee Day activity

Usually, on World Refugee Day, many of the organizations working in the field organize activities to commemorate the day. It is the biggest occasion for refugee related organizations and UN agencies and thus they often start preparing for the day months in advance.

Depending on the country, the organization’s focus and sometimes the size of the refugee community in a specific place, activities can range from a simple celebration to a multiple-day event full of activities, games and panel discussions.

This year, on June 20th 2019, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has organized a global campaign for World Refugee Day called Step with Refugees. The campaign called for solidarity with refugees by organizing a marathon in different cities around the world to honor the efforts of refugees and pay tribute to their various journeys to safety. This was not the first time that UNHCR or other organizations celebrate World Refugee Day with a similar activity. You should simply keep an eye on local events around June of each year and be willing to take part in one of them to show solidarity and commemorate the day.

If, for some reason, you are not able (or not into) an activity as “active” as a marathon, do not worry. On World Refugee Day, there is definitely something for every taste and you can always find your way to an enjoyable activity on June 20th. In fact, the most common activity on World Refugee Day is a cultural event which pays tribute to refugees and their origins and aims to create an atmosphere of home for everybody. On June 20th, 2017 for example, the Greek Forum of Refugees in partnership with other local stakeholders organized a multicultural event in Athens where refugees and asylum seekers from African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries came together to showcase their cultures and share a taste of their origins with the local community. Imagine being able to meet people from all parts of the world, see traditional outfits from a variety of countries and taste food that you probably would not be able to find elsewhere if you ask, all in one place and in one day. The whole world has become a little global village and we ought to feel lucky to be exposed to the richness of our world through these small celebrations every now and then. These types of events are usually held in a public space, notably very central and known to locals so as to encourage everybody to join the activity.

For food lovers who do not want to just have a small bite of an ethnic dish, do not worry, there are also events which entirely dedicated for gastronomy. Refugee Food Festival is a very accurate example! The project started in France in 2016 when a few locals wanted to further encourage refugees’ local integration in their community. From a small idea, the festival has now just had a 4th successful version this year in 15 cities from 9 different countries in 3 continents. Alternatively, you can take the initiative yourself and celebrate World Refugee Day with a meal at a refugee-owned restaurant in your city. You will not only be supporting a refugee-owned business and the result of a very hard journey to safety, but you would also try some of the most incredible ethnic dishes ever because, as one of the Refugee Food Festivals said, “Cooking makes it possible to go beyond status, to discover other people’s worlds, by sharing what is both most singular and most universal.”

2 Raise awareness

As simple as it sounds, raising awareness of the current topic of refugees and migration is in itself a huge step in showing solidarity with refugees and adopting the cause in a way. Start by yourself and, if you feel like you want to know more on refugees’ backgrounds, why they leave and what legal instruments are used to determine refugee status, take the time you need to read more and obtain all the information you need. Nowadays, the whole world is talking about the refugee issue or topic. Although some resources like the media might have a specific approach or try to portray refugees in a certain way, there are also other resources where you can find relevant information on the topic and correct data on what is happening around the world. The resources are endless.

But what is more important on a day like world refugee day is to also raise awareness among your community. It is undeniable that local communities are usually divided into 2 groups: those who clearly show solidarity and welcome refugees and those who might have a defensive approach to migration in general, especially in countries or regions where the numbers of refugees are bigger than others. The reason behind this defensive attitude might not always be a result of one’s personality or ideologies; it can also be caused by the dissemination of wrong information, the influence of the media in today’s world and other factors related to the fear of the other and the fear of change in demographics in one’s community. This is when raising awareness would be very helpful and a first step in helping refugees indirectly, especially around World Refugee Day where some tensions usually take place in different areas of the world and by both parties. Remember, you do not need to give a political speech; sometimes it is enough to just bring it up and see what happened. Start with your family, sit with your close ones and tell them about your new neighbor from Somalia or the community center that just opened last week to shelter refugees. Have these sorts of conversations and hear what your surrounding has to say, then do your magic!

3 Volunteer

Volunteering has always been one of the first ways to help refugees and other vulnerable groups. Since the start of the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015, high numbers of volunteers have flown to Greece, Calais in France, Turkey and other locations where the numbers of arrivals were soaring. My career working with refugees has started as a volunteer in Greek camps around 5 years ago. If you do believe in the cause and want to make a change, especially on World Refugee Day, be a volunteer with a local organization, offer your help organizing an activity or event, offer your creative ideas for this occasion… the possibilities are endless. Depending on what is available in your community, you can be part of this celebration as a volunteer in different ways and help organizations and people who probably need your assistance now more than any other time. Just offer!

4 Donate or fundraise

If you do not have time to attend a physical event or volunteer, another way to show your commitment to the cause on World Refugee Day is to provide financial assistance, as little or much as that can be. As we know, non-profit and grassroot organizations depend entirely on funding from external agents, thus the name “non-profit”. For some small organizations, planning an event on World Refugee Day can be a big burden if the finances do not match the staff ambition and commitment to refugees. To show your solidarity and be part of World Refugee Day, you can always choose to donate to an organization of your choice and help make World Refugee Day happen. Almost all NGOs nowadays have a direct link on their websites for donations; otherwise they would provide a bank account and explain how you can transfer the money. If you are feeling a little more generous than that, you can also opt for a recurring donation which is yet another monthly subscription to add to your collection, except this one is really meaningful.

Alternatively, you can organize your own fundraising campaign and dedicate the gains to a chosen organization or community center. Fundraising activities are limitless and include selling your crafts, singing, organizing a game or even starting an online campaign for a cause.

5 Reach out to a refugee

Leaving the best for the last, what you can really do to make a difference, not only on World Refugee Day but every minute of every day is to reach out to a refugee. Make them feel welcome in your community, show them around, help them practice your local language, teach them about your traditions, simply be a human to a fellow human.

About the author

Rahma Henchiri

Rahma Henchiri is an RSD/Protection Associate at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Her humanitarian journey started in refugee camps in Greece from the very first days of the “migration crisis” in the Eastern Mediterranean route (Turkey – Greece). She gained her experience through working with different international and local organizations in Greece before moving to other countries. She has been working with UNHCR for nearly two years now in two different duty stations. Her main focus currently is on asylum law, child protection and SGBV within the refugee communities.