World Refugee Day — What We Owe Each Other

20 June, 2022


All refugees, regard­less of which coun­tries they are flee­ing, or which reli­gion they may observe, mer­it the same human rights we demand for ourselves.


Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day. For peo­ple with­out a home, with­out a fixed address, each and every day is one with­out secu­ri­ty, a day cloud­ed by uncer­tain­ty. The war in Ukraine is mere­ly the lat­est dis­as­ter that has sent mil­lions of peo­ple flee­ing; before that, we saw strife in (non-exhaus­tive list) Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and per­haps most egre­gious­ly, Syria.

Last year at this time, the UN’s refugee relief agency, UNHCR, esti­mat­ed that for the first time in record­ed his­to­ry, the num­ber of peo­ple forcibly dis­placed had grown to 84 mil­lion, with near­ly 30 mil­lion refugees. We’re talk­ing about indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies flee­ing their coun­try, often with­out a viable pass­port, seek­ing asy­lum. And these fig­ures like­ly do not take into account more than 30 mil­lion Kurds, whose full auton­o­my is not rec­og­nized, and who often face hos­til­i­ty and oppres­sion from the gov­ern­ments of Turkey, Syr­ia, Iraq and Iran. It does not include near­ly five mil­lion Pales­tini­ans who live in the West Bank and Gaza, who are often unable to trav­el, or who trav­el only with great dif­fi­cul­ty, and who live with­out many of the rights accord­ed cit­i­zens of Israel.

To my mind, World Refugee Day is a day to hon­or all refugees, dis­placed peo­ple, and pop­u­la­tions with­out the human rights that most of us take for grant­ed. We owe it to our­selves — to the world we want to live in — to fight for these rights across the spec­trum, regard­less of which coun­tries refugees are from, or which reli­gion they may observe.

Refuge is pub­lished by PUP.

For Heba Gowayed, who in Refuge, How the State Shapes Human Poten­tial — her new book just out from Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press — refuge is about find­ing recog­ni­tion. She writes:

“To under­stand the men and women’s jour­neys to refuge is to begin with their dis­place­ment. Who becomes a refugee is deter­mined by glob­al inequal­i­ties. Peo­ple who have been per­se­cut­ed and sub­ject­ed to vio­lence for who they are — such as being gay, a polit­i­cal dis­si­dent, or Bahai — or due to wide­spread vio­lence of war, or geno­cide, peti­tion to be rec­og­nized as refugees accord­ing to the 1967 def­i­n­i­tion of the Unit­ed Nations’ Pro­to­col Relat­ing to the Sta­tus of Refugees as some­one who ‘owing to well-found­ed fear of being per­se­cut­ed for rea­sons of race, reli­gion, nation­al­i­ty, mem­ber­ship of a par­tic­u­lar social group or polit­i­cal opin­ion, is out­side the coun­try of his nation­al­i­ty and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwill­ing to avail him­self of the pro­tec­tion of that country.’”

One way to hon­or refugees is to obtain a copy of Refuge, read it, and share what you learn.

Mean­while, across the world, many cel­e­bra­tions and com­mem­o­ra­tions on behalf of refugees are tak­ing place.

In the UK, Syr­i­an artist Issam Kour­baj pro­duced a video per­for­mance mark­ing 10 years of war and suf­fer­ing in Syr­ia, in Implod­ed, Burned, Turned to Ash. Mul­ti­ple screen­ings of this record­ed draw­ing and sound per­for­mance are tak­ing place this week  in var­i­ous loca­tions, world­wide, includ­ing cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions and church­es across the UK, Europe, Mid­dle East and USA, through­out Refugee Week (June 20–26, 2022). The ash pro­duced dur­ing the orig­i­nal per­for­mance will be installed in a glass ves­sel next to the screen at select­ed loca­tions, includ­ing St James’s Pic­cadil­ly, Lon­don, and Great St Mary’s Church, Cam­bridge. The per­for­mance will also be avail­able to watch vir­tu­al­ly on asso­ci­at­ed web­sites that will be acces­si­ble to any­one unable to make it to one of the phys­i­cal locations.



Notes Kour­baj, “The idea of screen­ing it in mul­ti­ple loca­tions and on the inter­net reflects the dias­po­ra of many Syr­i­ans forced to leave their destroyed homes and erased cities, who are now scat­tered across the world, while the glass jar of ash casts light on war’s ter­ri­ble con­ti­nu­ity (even when it is no longer men­tioned in the media) and the destruc­tion of all cities and liveli­hoods, which we see repeat­ed time and again (as is now trag­i­cal­ly hap­pen­ing in the Ukraine) and through­out human his­to­ry.” More info.

A French chef in Stras­bourg wel­comes a Syr­i­an refugee on June 16th, 2022        (cour­tesy Refugee Food Fes­ti­val).

In France, the Refugee Food Fes­ti­val is back for the sev­enth year, oper­at­ing in 11 cities, includ­ing in Mont­pel­li­er, where The Markaz Review is part­ly based. (From June 20–26, par­tic­i­pat­ing restau­rants and sites include La Mai­son des Rela­tions Inter­na­tionales, La Tables des Poètes, Pain Brut, La Halle Tro­pisme, La Prairie Mimosa et Panka.)

Orga­niz­ers of the Refugee Food Fes­ti­val note that, “After a year sad­ly marked by the cap­ture of Kab­ul in August 2021 and the begin­ning of the Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian war at the end of Feb­ru­ary 2022, the com­mit­ted culi­nary fes­ti­val will have a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance this year.

“From June 7 to 26, in 11 cities in France and Switzer­land, near­ly a hun­dred address­es will share their know-how with chefs and arti­sans who have come to France to take refuge in their culi­nary her­itage. These encoun­ters will give rise, for one or more ser­vices, to col­lab­o­ra­tions with Ukrain­ian, Syr­i­an, Afghan, Tibetan, Mau­ri­tan­ian or Ethiopi­an accents…

“Bor­deaux, Dijon, Gene­va, Lille, Lyon, Mar­seille, Mont­pel­li­er, Nantes, Paris, Rennes and Stras­bourg: these are the cities that will host the fes­ti­val in June, on the occa­sion of World Refugee Day, the 20th. From Miche­lin-starred restau­rants to neigh­bor­hood can­teens, local estab­lish­ments will open their kitchens wide to wel­come these cooks and show that cook­ing is a pow­er­ful tool for social and pro­fes­sion­al integration.”

More info/find par­tic­i­pat­ing restau­rants.

The UN Refugee Agency main­tains a live blog, in which “we’ll be bring­ing you sto­ries and events from around the world cel­e­brat­ing refugees and the coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties that have tak­en them in.”

Today is a great day to make a dona­tion to the refugee relief agency of your choice. Here are a few to choose from:

Afghan Refugee Relief
Inter­na­tion­al Res­cue Committee
Refugee Food Festival
Refugee Relief International
Syr­i­an Refugee Relief Fund – Glob­al Giving
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)


Jor­dan Elgrably


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