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15 Ideas To Celebrate World Refugee Day (2023)

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Illustration of refugees from around the world, with the word welcome written in several different languages
This article is presented in partnership with Project HOPE

World Refugee Day, celebrated annually on June 20th, highlights the strength and courage of refugees. These individuals have been displaced from their homelands due to conflict or natural disasters. The day serves to increase public awareness and bolster worldwide support for refugees."

According to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are now over 108.4 million displaced individuals around the world, the highest number ever recorded. 

It’s important to look beyond just the staggering numbers, and realize that each of those individuals has a face, a story, and a set of hopes and dreams they hope to achieve. 

World Refugee Day was established on June 20, 2001, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

My family and I became refugees in 2006, leaving Baghdad and moving to Syria, which was taking in refugees at the time. After over a year of interviews, we received a phone call: we had four one-way tickets to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 

We were incredibly lucky. Only 2% of all refugees are resettled to a new country, and the average time an individual spends in the refugee camp is over a decade

Over the past eight years, I have worked to create system-level platforms for refugee youth to share their own stories, on their own terms. 

As a teen, I founded the organization Narratio, which now runs the only storytelling and leadership fellowship for resettled refugee youth in the United States. Over the past five years, work by 57 Narratio Fellows has reached over 2.5 million individuals worldwide. 

I worked with Good Good Good in 2020 to create The Refugees Edition of the Goodnewspaper — and they reached out to ask me to create this guide.

While it’s important to learn more about and uplift the experiences of refugees every single day, it’s helpful to have somewhere to start. I’ve created a guide on how you can join me in celebrating World Refugee Day this year.

By the way, some of the links in this article (like books!) are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Activities and Ideas: How To Recognize World Refugee Day

Learn

Learn about the nuances between displaced populations. 

There are several definitions to be aware of as we think about World Refugee Day. According to UNHCR, a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.” There are also those who are internally displaced, stateless, and seeking asylum. 

Learn more about these definitions in this guide from the UNHCR.  

Learn how refugee resettlement works.

Refugee resettlement can be a long and uncertain process, and a small fraction of refugees are resettled to a new country. 

After arrival, a new journey begins as individuals (and more often, families) start to build new lives and adjust to life in America. 

In 2020, I had the honor of hosting the regional-Murrow Award-winning VPM/NPR podcast Resettled, which breaks down the refugee resettlement process through the stories of those directly experiencing it. 

Check out the six-episode series and learn more about refugee resettlement — covering arrival, language, education, health, and finding home.  

Watch films about the complexity of displacement.

There’s a difference between a refugee story and the story of someone who happens to be a refugee. These movies showcase this distinction in a powerful way:  

Read books by authors who have experienced displacement.

Literature can help us better understand the world and our place within it. These books powerfully articulate the diverse experiences of displaced individuals, and intentionally center their stories in ways that they directly shape and influence: 

  • “Sea Prayer” by Khaled Hosseini (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World” by Malala Yousafzai (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • "The Undocumented Americans" by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America” by Jessica Goudeau (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, David Bezmozgis, Thi Bui, Reyna Grande, Aleksandar Hemon, and  Vu Tran (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “The Ungrateful Refugee” by Dina Nayeri (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • And my book: “While the Earth Sleeps We Travel: Stories, Poetry, and Art From Young Refugees Around the World” by Ahmed M. Badr (Bookshop) (Amazon)

Read and share good news about refugees.

Refugees are not a monolithic group. They are artists, doctors, lawyers, pilots, storytellers, and so much more. ​​

Good Good Good is all about helping readers celebrate good news and become good news. 

This World Refugee Day, let’s celebrate good news created by remarkable individuals who happen to be current or former refugees:

Read all of Good Good Good’s refugee good news coverage

Take Action

Volunteer with a nonprofit that supports refugees in your community.

Organizations supporting refugees are typically underfunded and overstretched. They rely heavily on volunteers to support newcomers as they adjust to life in the U.S. 

There are multiple levels of support possible, from giving someone a ride, to leading a literacy and language skills class, to hosting a community event to welcome new arrivals. 

Check out this list of nonprofits in all 50 states and find one you can support in your community!

Donate to a nonprofit that helps support refugees in the United States.

Once refugees arrive in the U.S., they are supported by a network of community organizations, from resettlement agencies to literacy centers to career development programs. 

I’ve worked with many of these organizations and highly recommend their extraordinary work: 

Hello Neighbor (Pittsburgh, National) — Hello Neighbor supports newly arrived refugee and immigrant families by introducing them to “dedicated neighbors.” Hello Neighbor also centralizes a remarkable network of organizations, along with a fellowship,  working to support refugees across the US.  

Cuatro Puntos (Connecticut) — Cuatro Puntos works to highlight underrepresented musicians from around the world, many of whom happen to be refugees. They host tours, fund albums, and create community for artists across genres and lived experiences.  

ReEstablish Richmond (Virginia)  — ReR, supported by a network of volunteers, provides refugees and new immigrants with the opportunities and resources to build their new lives in America. 

Elena’s Light (Connecticut) — EL is led by a former Afghan refugee, and utilizes a community-informed approach to supporting newly arrived refugee women. They are working to expand their operations across the United States. 

My organization: Narratio (New York, Virginia, National & International) — We create platforms for displaced youth to share their own stories on their own terms.


Donate to a nonprofit that helps support refugees around the world.

It’s important to remember that most refugees are not in the United States, and that we must also support organizations working at the global level. 

#MeWe International — #MeWeIntl utilizes an award-winning, holistic set of communications tools to activate the power of displaced populations to claim agency over their stories and become leaders in their communities. 

UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency — UNHCR is the official UN body tasked with protecting and supporting the world’s displaced populations. They respond to emergencies and mobilize resources to support refugees across their journeys. 

International Rescue Committee — Founded by Albert Einstein in 1933, The International Rescue Committee (known as the IRC) supports displaced populations (including those affected by climate change). The organization is a leader in supporting resettled refugees in the United States. 

Choose Love — Choose Love is an organization and online store, the first in the world to sell real products for refugees. Each purchase made is matched to a real item or service a refugee needs. In 2016, Choose Love was the largest community-led distributor of aid in Europe. 

Commit to challenging monolithic representations of refugees. 

Amplify and create space for nuanced expressions of refugee stories. Remember that there is a distinction between a refugee story and the story of someone who happens to be a refugee. 

Share the stories, films, podcasts, and music featured in this article, introducing refugee stories in a holistic way. 

Support refugee-owned businesses.

Immigrants and refugees are some of the most prolific entrepreneurs and business leaders. In fact, according to Forbes, 55% of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. are founded by an immigrant. These leaders create powerful, multilayered impact across local, national, and international scales. 

Initiatives like the Tent Partnership for Refugees, created by Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya, mobilizes the business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of refugees all over the world.  

Check out this list of 216 Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants.

Celebrate

Attend a World Refugee Day event in your community.

World Refugee Day is a communal celebration. Across the U.S. and the world, local communities come together to celebrate the rich and diverse contributions of refugees and immigrants through fairs, dinners, parades, and so much more. 

Browse the Hello Neighbor Network and find World Refugee Day events in your community. 

Listen to music by artists who have experienced displacement.

Musicians who have experienced displacement are not necessarily defined by that displacement. Artists working within and outside of the diaspora have created some of the most powerful work spanning genres, regions, and styles.  

Check out these remarkable musicians: 

For Kids / Students At School

Browse projects by other displaced young people. 

Displaced young people are some of the world’s best artists, storytellers, and creatives. It’s important to highlight their work in its full richness and complexity. 

  • Check out creative work by the Narratio Fellows
  • Browse the Sirkhane Darkroom catalog, a mobile analog photography project for children and youth on the Turkish / Syrian border with Iraq. 

Read and listen to poems by writers who have experienced displacement.

Poetry is a powerful tool for capturing complex feelings and experiences. These poets defy the assumed narratives of their displacement, and instead offer new perspectives — on their own terms. 

Give presentations about extraordinary leaders, artists, and scientists who have experienced displacement. 

Some of the most remarkable humans in history happened to be refugees. It’s important to highlight these stories, but we must also  remember that success can have many manifestations, beyond fame. Explore the full stories of these individuals who have shaped and continue to shape our world:  

  • Albert Einstein 
  • Samia Halaby 
  • Freddie Mercury 
  • Mona Hatoum 
  • Isabel Allende 
  • K’Naan 
  • Mo Amer

Bonus: Explore this full list of famous refugees compiled by RefugeeWeek.org 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we celebrate World Refugee Day?

We celebrate World Refugee Day to honor the power, resilience, and diversity of individuals who have or are experiencing displacement. We amplify their voices, their work, and create spaces for them to share their own stories, on their own terms. 

What is the 2023 theme for World Refugee Day?

The 2023 theme of World Refugee Day is “hope away from home.” We must continue supporting refugees as they integrate into new communities across the United States and beyond. Finding home can be a difficult challenge, one that can be made easier with community support and solidarity. 

What was the 2022 theme for World Refugee Day?

The 2022 theme of World Refugee Day was “Whoever, Wherever, Whenever.” Its aim was to highlight the need for greater inclusivity of refugees across the world, and a demand to take into account their individual needs and demands in ways that are intentional and equitable.  

What are the colors for World Refugee Day?

There are no official colors for World Refugee Day, but the UNHCR logo and flag use the color white on a blue background or blue on white background. Many organizations and celebrations use similar color schemes in their annual designs.

What are some good quotes about refugees?

Good Good Good has compiled a collection of quotes about the refugee experience and quotes from refugees themselves.

Read all of the best refugee quotes

What hashtags should be used for World Refugee Day?

When sharing about World Refugee Day on social media, use these popular hashtags:

  • #WorldRefugeeDay
  • #WithRefugees
  • #SafetyForAll
  • #RefugeesWelcome

When is Refugee Week?

Refugee Week takes place each year during the week around World Refugee Day on June 20. In 2023, Refugee Week takes place from June 19-25 — and features events across the world honoring and uplifting the stories, contributions, and resilience of refugees across local, national, and international communities.

When is Refugee Awareness Month?

While there is a World Refugee Day and Refugee Week — there is not a Refugee Awareness Month. There is, however, an Immigrant Heritage Month, which is celebrated in July each year.

Header image by Carra Sykes for The Refugee Edition of the Goodnewspaper — depicting the word Welcome, written in different languages

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