In 2000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) decided that the 20th June each year would be celebrated as World Refugee Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees worldwide.
The first time I looked into the UNHCR and the plight of refugees was when I’d watched a programme called Equator on the BBC back in 2006. Do you remember it? Simon Reeve followed the equator around the world to visit some of the most troubled countries on earth such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia.
On his journey he visited a refugee camp on the Kenya/Somalia border where he met with a young woman called Fatima who’d lived in the refugee camp for most of her life.
Fatima fled from her home in Somalia to the camp for safety and what really struck me was that she’d never travelled more than 4km from the camp. The Kenyan authorities wouldn’t let her go any further into Kenya and she couldn’t go back to Somalia so therefore had been trapped with thousands of other refugees in the camp for the last 17 years. In the programme, Simon Reeve talked about having a British passport and how he could go anywhere he wanted in the world yet the refugees are confined to almost a prison.
After visiting the camp Reeve said: “Thanks to an accident of birth, I was lucky enough to be able to leave to continue my journey around the world”.
Last year 800,000 people were forced to flee across borders. Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000).
The UNHCR has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly their role is to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems around the world.