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World Refugee Day 2017: A Day of Resilience and Strength

Around the world, there are 65.3 million people who have been forced out of their homes, over half of them under the age of 18. According to the Center for American Progress, 21.3 million of these people are externally displaced and seeking refuge in a different country – the rest are internally displaced in their country of origin. Today, the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in human history. Refugees come from all over the world, from Syria to Somalia, Afghanistan to Colombia, and Burma to Iraq. In the U.S., the highest number of refugees come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of STAND’s core focus areas. There is no single kind of refugee, but all are facing strife and deserve our help and compassion.

June 20 is a day to come together and commemorate the strength and resilience that refugees possess and continue to exhibit despite the hindrances in their lives. On December 4, 2000, the UN named June 20 World Refugee Day in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The 1951 Convention not only defined the term “refugee”, but also outlined the rights of displaced people and the legal obligations of states to protect those displaced by conflict. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) serves as the institution that defends these protocols and guidelines, protecting and aiding refugees at the request of governments and the UN, and assisting in voluntary repatriation and resettlement efforts for refugee populations around the world.

Although today is called World Refugee Day, there are varying terms to describe displaced people. The Canadian organization Humanitarian Coalition defines a refugee as a person who is outside their country of nationality “owing to a well-rounded fear of being persecuted.” Once deemed a refugee, a person is entitled to the protections outlined in the Refugee Convention, including international protection and assistance. Despite that presumed security, there are many pitfalls and flaws that vary country to country, depending on inequities among refugees from different nationalities, outdated qualities of the 1951 Convention, and the evident struggles of simply moving to a new country with the ‘refugee’ stigma. An internally displaced person (often called IDP for short) is someone who has fled their home but has not left their country of origin. In 2015, there were around 38.2 million people who, after being forced out of their homes, met this definition. Asylum seekers are individuals who are seeking protection as a refugee but have not yet been legally granted refugee status. Without refugee-specific protections, they may be forced to return to their country, where persecution awaits them. Finally, stateless people are those who are not considered nationals of any state. The UNHCR estimates about 10 million people worldwide are stateless due to discrimination by other groups, flaws in nationality laws, and differences in country borders.

Last year, the United Nations created a #WithRefugees petition to garner support of refugees and encourage governments to do their part in protecting and assisting our world’s refugees. As European countries and other states such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are inundated with refugees they do not have the capacity to fully support, we call on other governments, such as the United States, to do their part to alleviate the crisis – by supporting refugees in the region, accepting more refugees into the U.S., and by investing in conflict mitigation and prevention efforts to prevent future refugee crises from occurring.

Here are three ways you can take action for World Refugee Day:

  1. Sign the #WithRefugees petition.
  2. Call your Senators and Representatives and express the need for them to support U.S. refugee resettlement.
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  3. Attend an event near you! Look at this map to find your closest community event.


In order to send a message to the Trump Administration that we, as Americans, support refugees and resettlement programs in the U.S., we are co-sponsoring a rally at the White House today. Our message is clear – “No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here.” By standing with a variety of allies, from faith communities to business leaders, advocacy groups to individual committed citizens, we will urge the President and Congress to commit to resettling 75,000 refugees in 2018. Please join us, or participate in an event near you, to stand with our refugees and make a message.

17884445_10212561699940408_4790748620734334164_nAshley Morefield is a rising senior at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She majors in International Studies with a concentration in Sub-Saharan Africa and French & Francophone Studies. After spending a year studying abroad in Toulouse, France, she’s excited to intern at STAND’s office in Washington, D.C. this summer.


Featured Image: (c) Wikipedia. 2013.

Myanmar’s Child Soldiers

On November 30th 2015, the Burma Army released an additional 53 child soldiers to the 156 they have already released in 2015. Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian coordinator, stated, “I am delighted to see these children and young people returning to their homes and families. We are hopeful that institutional checks that have been put in place and continued efforts will ensure that recruitment of children will exist no more” (UNICEF). 146 recruits were freed just this year.


In June 2012, the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations created and signed an action plan that would prevent the recruitment and use of children for military purposes. The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, would also release its under-age recruits. UNICEF, which spearheaded the talks between the United Nations and the Burmese government, declared its commitment to helping the government ensure the swift delivery of these children to their families and communities as soon as possible. Since the action plan was signed, 699 children have been released. Of the Tatmadaw’s 300,000-350,000 recruited members, a large majority were thought to be children before the action plan was signed (although there is no way to know for sure since the Tatmadaw do not release data of their recruits) (Aljazeera).


Although the Tatmadaw has a long history of recruiting children to their ranks, there are seven other ethnic armed groups that have made the UN Secretary-General’s list as “persistent perpetrators”. These groups include Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNLAPC), Karenni Army (KA), Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The UWSA is one of the largest and best equipped of these armed groups. T The constant conflict between these groups motivated by the want of power may hinder the government’s ability to control these groups.

Myanmar recently had a surprisingly successful democratic election, resulting in the National League for Democracy’s victory. Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a staggering majority in parliament, which ended 50 years of dominance by the military. Hopefully with this transition from a military-dominated government to a supposedly democratic government, there will only be more reforms regarding human rights violations. In 2012, Suu Kyi was quoted saying that issues such as child soldiers and child trafficking were some of her “greatest concerns” (Telegraph). Besides that conversation, Suu Kyi was fairly silent about controversial issues pertaining to the Burmese government in an attempt to not alienate voters before the election. Now that she is in power, we will have to wait and see how far Suu Kyi goes forth with containing the human rights abuses for which her country is plagued.

Ashley HeadshotAshley Morefield is a sophomore at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, studying International Relations and French.


Central Europe’s Mishandling of Refugees

As the crisis in Syria persists, nations around the world have been receiving massive influxes of refugees seeking asylum from Syria and Iraq. Refugees are attempting to gain access to Northern and Western Europe, yet many have stopped in Central European states such as Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia. These European states are struggling with ways to react to the large of number of refugees. Recently, Hungary closed their borders, leading  13,000 individuals to enter Croatia. In response, Croatia closed seven of their eight border crossings with Serbia in an attempt to halt the influx of refugees. If countries continue to turn Syrian refugees away, more and more escapees, already facing severe trauma, will face the threat of injury or death.

Croatian Prime Minister, Zoran Milanovic, stated, “You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But, go on. Not because we don’t like you but because this is not your final destination.”

Neighbors of Croatia, such as Serbia, argue that Croatia is violating the European Union’s regulations regarding refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. The main system, the Schengen, is an EU law that pertains to these subjects. According to other states such as Slovenia, Croatia is disregarding the Schengen, which abolishes border controls among European states that are a part of the EU. This means that just as Americans can roam freely between states, travelers of the countries that have signed the Schengen can pass freely without having to stop and show a passport or visa. Because these European countries have had such a hard time controlling the intake of refugees and migrants, several countries, including Croatia, have reinstated border controls so that they do not have to rely on other countries to resist refugees. Although, according to Babar Baloch, Central Europe spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while the United Nations has the financial means to sufficiently accommodate the refugees, the lack of collective action by European states is making this process difficult for police, refugees, governments, and nationals alike.

The inability of these countries to initiate a controlled, systematic approach to this refugee crisis will result in significantly more casualties. The estimated 60,000 to 100,000 landmines left from the Balkan wars, which spread across over 300 miles of Croatian soil, are one example. Various aid groups are worried about refugees avoiding roads to borders and crossing cornfields that may contain landmines.

The crisis is growing  with each day, and sooner or later, European states will need to resolve the problems with their current systems regarding refugees. More than 442,440 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean, 2,921 deaths have been recorded of those who have tried to escape from Syria, and more than 4,000 people are arriving in Greece daily. These numbers reflect the dire situation. It is imperative that Western and Central Europe combine forces to ensure these refugees receive safe passage and shelter.

1376509_10202511785778835_730124789_nAshley Morefield is a sophomore at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, studying International Relations and French.