Tomorrow, on June 20, we observe World Refugee Day. This day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of those who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. But this year’s World Refugee Day also reminds us – perhaps more than ever before – of our failures as an international community and the shortcomings of international refugee law. Civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, with an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013. Not since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have refugee numbers risen at such a startling rate.
In March of last year, the UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres wrote in the New York Times, “[o]n Wednesday, my colleagues will register the one millionth Syrian refugee. A milestone in human tragedy. And a figure that should, after two years of death and destruction, stir the level of political action needed to put an end to this war before more lives are lost, more people forced to flee and the conflict destabilizes the region.” This past April, UNHCR once again brought to our attention the one millionth refugee, although, this time, the figure referred solely to the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In total, and in addition to 6.5 million internally displaced persons in Syria, we are currently facing a staggering 2.8 million Syrian refugees. Continue reading