World Refugee Day is upon us and while my instinct is to do what I do on every such anniversary, which is to wish everyone a "Happy World Refugee Day!" I think we all can agree that this is no happy occasion. World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations in December 2000 and is celebrated each June 20th, to honor the world's refugees for the courage they must possess when compelled to flee their homes and travel to unfamiliar lands, often with no certain hope of return.
Most people don't recognize the sheer volume of refugees in the world today: according to the UN's refugee agency, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced by war and other crises in 2012 was approximately 45.2 million people - higher than it has been in almost two decades. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, adds, "This means one in each 4.1 seconds. So each time you blink, another person is forced to flee."
One every 4.1 seconds? That number is difficult to fathom. And I think it is all too easy to be misinformed or even completely unaware about the plight of all those people. One common misconception lies in confusing refugees with immigrants. But unlike immigrants, refugees usually have little to no choice over the timing of their departure or their destination. Also, refugees typically are not people moving from poor countries into rich countries in search of a better life or more opportunities. In fact, 87 percent of the world's refugees were protected by developing countries, with Pakistan as the world's top host nation in 2012.
Among the 45.2 million refugees, 28.8 million are internally displaced, 15.4 million are border-crossing, and 937,000 are asylum seekers. And although the asylum seekers are a relatively small piece of the pie, they are arguably the most important segment to the United States because for seven years in a row the U.S. was the largest recipient, among the industrialized nations, of new asylum claims.