World Refugee Day: What it is and Why We Celebrate

Migrant Services

Guest Authored by Dana Lea, Endeavors’ Migrant Services

History of World Refugee Day

June 20, 2021, marks the 20th year that the international community has celebrated World Refugee Day. The United Nations’ declared day was first held in 2001 and is dedicated to honoring refugees globally. 

This year also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which, along with the 1967 Protocol, set the basis of the refugee protection system worldwide. 

This Convention was created as a safety net in the aftermath of WWII as millions of people fled their European home countries in search of refuge. According to the Convention, “States are responsible for protecting the fundamental human rights of their citizens. When they are unable or unwilling to do so – often for political reasons or based on discrimination – individuals may suffer such serious violations of their human rights that they have to leave their homes, their families, and their communities to find sanctuary in another country.” The Convention and its subsequent Protocol officially and legally defined a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The modern United State Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) was formally established by the Refugee Act of 1980 to provide a “permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.” This Act established an annual refugee admissions ceiling set by the President in consultation with the Department of State and Congress (the Presidential Determination). 

Why do we Celebrate World Refugee Day?

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) data, there are currently over 80 million people displaced from their homes. Of this number, 26.3 million people are refugees. More than 67% of these individuals originate from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. The countries that first host refugees are often developing countries themselves, facing a range of geopolitical issues. As of mid-2020, 39% of all refugees were hosted in just five countries: Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Germany. Last year, of the 26.3 million refugees worldwide, only around 102,600 individuals returned to their countries of origin, and around 17,400 were resettled to a third country – that’s less than half of one percent! 

It is because of these alarming statistics that we choose to recognize those who have been forced to flee their countries and their homes each year. 

For one day a year, which often turns into a month of advocacy and events, we commemorate the plight of these 26.3 million people, those who came before them, and those that will subsequently come. We admire the resilience of those who have fled to provide a better life for themselves and their families. And we remember those who were lost along the way. 

World Refugee Day is also about celebration. We celebrate the diversity and gifts brought to our communities by people from all over the world. Refugees bring economic growth, entrepreneurship, innovation, cultural and culinary contributions, and so much more to our lives. 

In fact, several U.S. figures who have significantly contributed to our society were refugees, including former U.S. ambassador Madeleine Albright; Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Dith Pran; cultural icon and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan; politician and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sidney Hillman; Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; physicist and Nobel laureate Albert Einstein; and Congress Persons Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). 

World Refugee Day 2021

The theme for this year’s World Refugee Day is “Together we heal, learn and shine.” Through this theme, the UNHCR hopes to shine a light on the need for access to primary and secondary health care, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and mental health services for all refugees; the importance of education, which is often interrupted for refugee children, who make up half of the world’s refugees; and support and welcome from the community through sport, friendships, and creativity. 

The day is marked by a variety of events online and in-person across the globe. If you are interested in attending an event, you can search based on your location or join an international event highlighted by the UNHCR

Further, you can Tweet or post your support for refugees on social media by using the hashtags #WorldRefugeeDay, #WithRefugees, and #RefugeeDay. 

We can all do something to help. While Endeavors’ team is on the ground, working one-on-one with our migrant clients, you can help us give them the best humanitarian care possible. Your support could provide even more communities the resources to build better lives for themselves and their families. To make a donation of any size, contact us at [email protected]

About Endeavors
Endeavors, a San Antonio-based nonprofit, is a longstanding national nonprofit agency that provides an array of programs and services supporting children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness, disabilities, disasters, or emergencies. Endeavors has served vulnerable people in need since 1969 through personalized services. For more information, please visit

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