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Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 

World Refugee Day: A clarion call to protect and support migrants

This 20 June, World Refugee Day shines the spotlight on the plight of migrants and refugees with calls to protect and support those on the move and forced to flee.

By Lydia O’Kane

This week, more than 40 African migrants were rescued when their boat ran aground off Spain’s Canary Islands.

But a least four of these migrants, including a young boy and a pregnant woman, did not survive the journey.

It was yet another tragedy as people continue to make the perilous journey by sea in search of a better life.

Many forced to flee

Ahead of the World Day for Refugees which is observed on 20 June, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) announced on Thursday that an unprecedented number of people have been forced to flee their homes.

In a statement marking this World Day, the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that “more than 82.4 million men, women and children have had their worlds turned upside down by war, violence and persecution. While the rest of us spent much of the last year at home to stay safe, they had to run from their homes just to stay alive.”

Protection of  migrants and refugees

He went on to say that World Refugee Day, “should serve as a stark reminder to politicians of the need to do more to prevent and resolve conflict and crises. And of the imperative to protect people irrespective of their race, nationality, beliefs or other characteristics.”

The UN High Commissioner also noted that “over the past several months, a time dominated by the pandemic, we have seen that refugees – while needing, deserving, and having the right to international protection, safety, and support – also give back to each other and to their host communities.”

Mr Grandi said World Refugee Day offered an opportunity to express solidarity with refugees in our communities and around the world, and paid tribute to the drive, determination, and contributions made by people forced to flee.

Listen to the interview with Leïla Bodeux, Caritas Europa

Access to territories denied

This year, World Refugee Day marks its 20th anniversary.  It is also the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

As both these key dates come under the spotlight, Caritas Europa is concerned European countries are “increasingly closing access to their territories, including through illegal pushbacks and acute violence towards people seeking protection and a better life in Europe.”

“While we see all these people needing protection in the world, we see in parallel that Europe is trying to close access to its territories; to close access to asylum by using a lot of different means to prevent people from arriving into its territories,” says Leïla Bodeux, Policy & Advocacy Officer for Caritas Europa.

 A case in point, notes Ms Bodeux, is the Balkan Route, seen especially on the borders between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

“These people are experiencing systematic violence, humiliation and push backs. Some people have been pushed back more than twenty times trying to cross the border.”

Mediterranean

Another region of concern, the Policy & Advocacy Officer highlights, is the Mediterranean Sea, where for many years,  “we have seen that people are dying, are disappearing in the sea in total indifference.”

An added worry for Caritas Europa, she explains, “is the fact that many of these people that try to cross the Mediterranean Sea are being returned, forcibly returned to Libya.”

More than 13,000 returned to the country in 2021, and Ms Bodeux says there is widespread evidence that “they will face detention, rape, abuses and many of them will actually be even sold.”

Call to policy makers

On this World Refugee Day, Caritas Europa is issuing a clarion call to policy makers to protect the right to asylum and the dignity of people on the move, and to facilitate human mobility instead of building walls.

“We echo Pope Francis’ message that we need to challenge the ‘globalization of indifference,’” says Ms Bodeux. “So we want that European countries to protect, promote, welcome and integrate migrants. For us it is important that there is an extension of the safe and regular pathways available for migrants to arrive to Europe.”

19 June 2021, 19:00