World Refugee Day – What Does it Mean?

This past Saturday, June 20, 2020 marked World Refugee Day. Apart from viewing dozens of social media posts with matching hashtags and donation buttons that memorialized organizations’ awareness efforts, there was something else that seemed important. That was this question – what does it really mean to celebrate World Refugee Day? Is it simply to bring awareness to the plight of refugees? Or does it mean something more?

A Refugee, by definition, has been recognized since Biblical times. But modern society did not embrace causes which aimed to bring the plight of refugees to the forefront until the advent of the United Nations in 1951. This was a defining moment in history.

Refugees were not only given legal status but rights and protections that spanned across the international arena. And since the mid-20th century refugee issues have thankfully never been lost to say, more popular social movements. Rather, refugee issues have remained at the forefront of international efforts and society’s consciousness. And amazingly, awareness of refugee issues has had an enormous impact on most every Western nation, where focusing on the plight of people across the globe is simply a policy option, not a lived reality.

Of course, there is always a power struggle between displaced persons who wish to settle somewhere that is not their home and those who wish to keep them out. This struggle, I believe will never be eradicated. But it is from this very struggle which brings necessity to go both through and around the bounds of legalese in order to find solutions. Put another way, necessity is the mother of invention, as Plato once so famously said. And I would also add that invention is the necessary condition of prosperity.

All this philosophical jargon is to say that we need darkness in order to create light. And with that light, we can better drive out darkness. This is the cycle of the humanitarian cause.

So what does World Refugee Day have to do with any of this? Well, it drives home the awareness that is the central foundation of building the lives of refugees. World Refugee Day puts at the forefront the necessary awareness of the vulnerability of refugees but also their inner strengths. Refugees can be desperate, in need and suffering. But they can also be prosperous and models of exemplary human beings – overcoming extreme adversity to create a better individual and community around them. This awareness is not just crucial for helping refugees, but the very truth that defines their existence. A truth we all should come to know.

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