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June 20: Today is World Refugee Day

Emergency aid Syria: UNHCR worker looks after the baby of a Syrian refugee while its parents are being registered. Copyright: UNHCR/S. Malkawi
Emergency aid Syria: UNHCR worker looks after the baby of a Syrian refugee while its parents are being registered. Al Beereh/Libanon, Copyright: UNHCR/S. Malkawi

Some 65 million individuals worldwide are refugees, the highest number ever recorded by the UN Refugees Agency. Most of these refugees are trying to escape war and violence – more than 50 percent of them are children. Only a few of those seeking refuge come to Europe: in 2015 approx. 1.3 million people applied for asylum in a member state of the EU, 470,000 of those in Germany. Compared to 2014, the number of people seeking refuge in Europe has doubled. On the occasion of the World Refugee Day on 20 June, the United Nations focuses on the suffering and the hopes of millions of refugees with the campaign “We stand #WithRefugees“.

Many families have been torn apart and are looking for their loved ones. Some 100,000 children find themselves fleeing on their own, with no adults to care for them. European governments and societies are faced with the challenge of meeting their commitment – and responsibility – to care for these refugees. They have to guarantee their safety and protection, reunite families, and deal with the growing number of xenophobic movements and incidents of racist violence in Europe.

Director Floriane Hohenberg: “The ITS supports the efforts of the United Nations to aid the refugees and, in its awareness of history, is committed to counteracting ostracism and persecution based on race, religion, heritage, sexual orientation, gender or political conviction.”

In 1945 the Allies were also confronted with a humanitarian challenge in liberated Europe: roughly 13 million traumatized survivors of Nazi terror had to be cared for – these were the so-called Displaced Persons (DPs). There were millions of former forced laborers, people who had been abducted, concentration camp survivors, among these a large number of unaccompanied children and youth. To clarify the fate of persons persecuted under the Nazi rule and to search for missed family members were the tasks of the International Tracing Service (ITS). In just the first ten years of the search for family members (1945-1955), the tracing service responded to some 900,000 inquiries. Even now, the ITS receives more than 1,000 inquiries a month.

The ITS also provides information on how the Allies managed the challenging task of supplying all these people with shelter, food, clothing, and medical care. In its archive, the ITS holds the most comprehensive collection of documents worldwide on Displaced Persons – among these documents are interviews with unaccompanied children and administration files of the Allies. Founded as a tracing service for the civilian victims and survivors of National Socialism, the ITS has developed through the decades into an archive and documentation center. Even today the ITS helps in the search for family members and in clarifying fates. Moreover, the institute commemorates the victims of Nazi crimes and contributes to the culture of memory. As of 2013 the original documents in the archive are included on the UNESCO “Memory of the World“ registry.

The ITS also pursues the goal of inspiring research based on its holdings, and to contribute to increasing knowledge about NS persecution, displacement, and the immediate post war period. At a time when the number of contemporary witnesses who can personally tell of their experiences is diminishing, educational projects using ITS documents can help increase awareness of ostracism and intolerance. In continuing to fulfill these responsibilities, the ITS is part of an international cooperation with memorial sites, archives and research institutes.

In 2000, the UN General Assembly declared June 20 to be World Refugee Day, thereby drawing attention to the particular situation of refugees. Since 2001, on the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees by the United Nations General Assembly, promotions and campaigns around the world take place on 20 June. 

Learn more: www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/