June 20, 2024


By Diana Award Recipient, Bree Yagana from Virginia, United States

World Refugee Day, taking place annually on 20 June, honours those who have been forced to flee so we can come together and champion their right to seek safety, build support for their economic and social inclusion, and advocate for solutions to their plight. This year, Diana Award Recipient Bree Yagana shares the story of her refugee family and, as the world grapples with escalating displacement, underscores the importance of commemorating World Refugee Day.

World Refugee Day

An urgent pounding on the door at midnight startles a 15-year-old boy awake in Kabul, Afghanistan. No need to check the peephole; these guests were expected, though certainly not welcomed. Helpless, he watches as six armed militias drag his father, a United Nations official, into their van. Fearing for his mother and sisters, the teenage boy attempts to reason with them, only to be knocked unconscious by a rifle to his forehead.

This boy was my father. Following the kidnapping of my grandfather, my father and his family risked their lives to flee to Pakistan. Shortly after their arrival, my 16-year-old father left for Great Britain in search of new opportunities. He began his studies while still living in an asylum centre. He remembers a particular UNHCR poster he saw there; it read, “A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. Einstein was a refugee.” That poster inspired him to strive to become the best version of himself despite the adversity he faced. I share my father’s story and that UNHCR poster with the refugees I meet today.

UNHCR Einstein refugee poster

World Refugee Day commemorates the resilience of individuals like those in my family who have been forced to flee. Many of the 110 million people displaced from their homes as of June 2023 hold stories as or more horrific than my own. Despite inconceivable hardship, refugees continue to move forward, sharing their pasts while forging new paths.

Refugees are highly adaptable and often become valuable assets to their new communities. Each individual brings unique stories, skills, culture, values, hopes, and a drive for improvement. Numerically, refugees reshape economies and contribute positively to the diversity and prosperity of their new homes. The fallacy that these individuals simply “take up space” in a new country is statistically false. An American Immigration Council analysis of 2.4 million refugees in the United States showed that they earned a collective $93.6 billion in household income, contributing over $25 billion in taxes and leaving over $65 billion in disposable income to circulate back to U.S. businesses.

Earnings statistics alone do not capture the remarkable resilience of refugees. What truly deserves commendation is their ability to recover and reinvent their legacies. Fatima, a 25-year-old Afghan refugee I met at a local library, faced ethnic and gender persecution daily in Afghanistan. Yet, here she was, only six months into her arrival in the United States, working at a local food distributor while learning English. She is now taking courses at a community college, determined to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.

The significance of World Refugee Day lies in celebrating the achievements and resilience of these individuals while acknowledging the severity of the refugee crisis and working towards solutions to the conflicts that cause displacement in the first place. Political instability threatens peace and makes our societies less secure. Wars, authoritarian regimes, civil unrest, and threats to democracy contribute to instability, resulting in humanitarian crises, political, gender, ethnic, and minority-based persecutions, and subsequent migration and displacement. According to the UNHCR, more than 8 million individuals from Afghanistan alone have been driven out of their country by conflict, violence, and poverty. An additional 3.2 million Afghans remain displaced and at risk within Afghanistan, unable to cross borders.

Your involvement on 20 June can raise awareness for both more effective refugee resettlement practices and the underlying crises worldwide that contribute to persecution, displacement, and death. Celebrating World Refugee Day draws attention to innocent people, mostly women and children, in places like Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose livelihoods are stolen daily based on gender, skin color, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation.

By using the UNHCR hashtag (#WorldRefugeeDay) in your social media posts, you can show solidarity with refugees worldwide. Your posts help draw attention to global conflicts and spark ideas and conversations on the best ways to solve them. Please also consider volunteering and/or donating to organizations such as the UNHCR, Global Refuge, or the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to assist with their refugee resettlement efforts.

Most importantly, on June 20th, appreciate all that you have — your material belongings and the people in your life. Many refugees have been forced to leave both behind.


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