June 20 is commemorated each year as World Refugee Day by more than 100 countries across the world since 2001. The day reminds us all of the obstacles refugees face each year when they are forced to flee from their countries of origin because of persecution, war or violence. The criterion of persecution as a definition of who may be officially recognised as a refugee, is the finding that a person has convincing evidence of being vulnerable to persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
It is also the day on which the the courage, strength and resilience of refugees is honoured as they flee from situations of war and violence. War leads to the forced displacement of thousands of individuals, fleeing to find safety and human security.
Of the present global estimate provided by the UNHCR, of 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons (either internally displaced persons or those who have sought to cross their national borders in the search for safety), 21 million are refugees and some 10 million are stateless. Over the past year, some 13.9 million people were newly displaced, many as a result of the civil war in Syria which has displaced more than 11 million Syrians. 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. This can be noted in reports of the flight of South Sudanese citizens from their young country.
In the African region, the continuing conflict in South Sudan has generated terrible conditions in refugee transit camps. Many of the refugees are unaccompanied children.
The latest update on the situation in South Sudan (available at http://data.unhcr.org/
South Africa has become increasingly hostile to refugees since the April 2015 xenophobia attacks that took place across South Africa. This is a major concern given South Africa’s own history of having generated thousands of exiles who fled the violent oppression of apartheid across most townships in the country.