World Refugee Day is observed on the 20th June each year and is organized by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Its purpose is to highlight the plight of refugees all over the world who have been forced to flee their homes because of wars and persecution; to help us to understand why people become refugees; and to encourage us to remember and think about their lives, the choices they have had to make, and their enormous courage in adversity.
There are currently over 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and according to the UNHCR, 2011 was a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any other time since 2000. 4.3 million people were newly displaced and 800,000 fled their countries and became refugees.
You can read more about refugees’ personal stories – who they are, why they become refugees, how they feel, and what their future holds – on the Refugee Stories website and the British Red Cross. Stories of people like Eric Nkundumubano who escaped the genocide of Rwanda to settle in the UK, and Alia who fled torture and persecution in Eritrea.
Angelina Jolie was made UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2001. She has carried out more than 40 field missions to some of the most remote regions of the world to highlight the plight of millions of uprooted people and to advocate for their protection.
Her years of remarkable service in this field have been recognized with her appointment as High Commissioner António Guterres’ Special Envoy. This new role will see her focus on large-scale crises resulting in mass population displacement.
Angelina Jolie UNHCR Special Envoy for Refugee Issues
No one chooses to be a refugee. Every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. If conflict threatened your family, what would you do? Stay and risk your lives? Or try to flee, and risk kidnap, rape or torture? UNHCR
For many refugees the choice is between an unimaginable horror and something that might be even worse. I have no idea how I would cope given those choices – especially if I had to make them on behalf of my children.