World Refugee Day 2024

World Refugee Day 2024

In Edmonton, in the context of World Refugee Day on June 20 and Indigenous People’s Day on June 21, we gather every year to take stock of the impact of war and persecution on civilian populations around the world. We also gather to imagine roles we can play to advocate for justice and to join together as Indigenous Peoples and Settlers to welcome refugees to safety on Treaty Six land.

Some people flee danger internal to their borders and are called “Internally Displaced People” or IDPs. Others flee the borders of their country into neighbouring countries as asylum seekers. Many of these people end up registering with the UN and are included in their statistics. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) provides tents for shelter, food, organises education for the children, and works at permanent solutions – either returning to their home country or gaining access to security and permanent residence in a new country.

The UNHCR came into being in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes.

UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) was established in 1949 to provide relief to refugees in the aftermath of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). 

There are many situations in our world that produce either internal displacement or flight. Some of the countries currently in the news include: 

  • Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups in Burma who have sought refuge in Bangladesh.
  • Afghans – who are in Pakistan and Iran fearing deportation back to Afghanistan
  • Iranians who flee to Turkey
  • Syrian refugees from the 2011 civil war who are in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan
  • Ukrainian refugees who have gone to Germany and other countries including Canada
  • Ethiopian displacement due to the civil war
  • Venezuelans – seeking refuge in Colombia and Honduras, among other countries
  • South Sudanese – seeking refuge in Uganda and Ethiopia
  • Congo, Sudan and Palestine – which we will look at more closely in a bit.


Here is a snapshot of the World Refugee situation as of July 2023 according to the UNHCR. 

As of May 2024, 120 million forcibly displaced people in the world.

62.5 million internally displaced people in the world

36.5 refugees (this number includes both asylum seekers and those with refugee status

6.1 million asylum seekers (applying for refugee status)

52% of registered refugees are from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine


Iran and Turkey are host to 3.4 million refugees each

Germany is host to 2.5 million refugees

Colombia to 2.5 million and Pakistan 2.1 million

Refugees are in limbo – waiting for a permanent place to call home. Many are in deep fear of deportation. 


In June 2024, three areas of the world have beyond catastrophic situations of violence, displacement and famine.  These three countries are: Congo, Sudan and Palestine. All three have one thing in common: Canada is both directly contributing to the devastating violence and is allied with countries contributing as well. As we navigate the colonial complicity that we’re steeped in, we must hold our systems and government accountable and ensure that our advocacy centres lived experience and is in the best interest of those most impacted by this violence. So what are the current situations for these three countries, and what is a bit of the backstory? 


As of Feb. 2024, there are 7.1 million IDPs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One million sixty three thousand refugees have fled to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Republic of Congo. 

There is a big issue of statelessness for this population as children are born and there is no way to register them as citizens of any country. Six million Congolese have died since the beginning of this 30 year conflict that began in 1994.

Although there are many players in this conflict, the origins stem from what became Rwanda after the Belgians left the region. Animosity had grown between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, in large part because the Belgians empowered the Tutsi minority. When the Hutus gained power in the 1960s post independence, the Tutsi minority leadership was forced to flee and sought refuge in Eastern Congo, and became Congolese citizens in the context of tribal Congolese communities. Ethnic strife led to the Rwandan genocide which produced significant Tutsi and Hutu refugee populations and armed groups within neighbouring Congo. Over the last 30 years, eastern Congo became the launch pad for violence to address a whole host of issues including fighting the corrupt government of Mobutu in the Congo, and the Rwandan retaliation against Hutus now in the Congo.

The intersecting issues linked to tensions sown during the Belgian colonial era, and which erupted in post-colonial time has produced the arming and counter-arming by both internal and external interference – of between 120 and 140 rebel groups in the region. The most active has been M23 which was contained by UN peacekeeping forces until recently. 

Currently M23 is threatening to topple the biggest city in the region -- Goma. According to the UN, M23 is funded and trained by the government of Rwanda. Vast and rich mineral deposits in the Congo contribute to the ongoing problems. Al Jazeera states: “DRC is home to some of the world’s largest reserves of metals and rare earth minerals like cobalt, considered essential in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs). As much as 70 percent of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the DRC. Coltan, used in gadgets like PlayStations and phones, is also plentiful in eastern DRC.” 

From CBC News in Manitoba, February 24, 2024: 'Canada can do something'

Demonstrators called for the Canadian government to step up and try to solve the issue through diplomacy. "If it's possible for Ukraine [to get help], it should also be possible to help Congo," said Paul Kambaja, a teacher who has lived in Winnipeg for more than 20 years. 

Kambaja said there are multiple Canadian mining companies doing business in Congo, and he wonders why the Canadian government isn't doing something to help. "We want [people] to know that every time they use their phones, they're using their TVs or any electronic device, those minerals … are coming from Congo, and the people of Congo are dying," he said. "We decided to raise awareness in Canada because we believe Canada can do something for Congolese people." 


The recent violence in Sudan has produced the world’s largest displacement of people in recent history.

As of May 2024 there have been 8.9 million forcibly displaced, 1.4 million into 5 neighbouring countries: South Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and Central African Republic.  In the Darfur area, displaced people are suffering from severe malnutrition.  Civilian populations seem to be targeted based on identity, which suggests a genocide is happening. 

The impact of the civil war is compounded by drought linked to climate change.  The media portrays this conflict as a civil war between two warring generals. But there is a larger conflict arena at play that includes three significant external players: – Egypt, UAE and Wagner Group (Russia). The UAE is a key ally of the United States and Canada. Five years ago, a well-organised largely peaceful grass roots movement within Sudan brought about the downfall of 30-year dictator Omar AlBashir. A military coup initiated by the RSF (Rapid Support Forces) morphed into civil war last year against the Sudanese Armed

Forces or SAF. The SAF is supported by Egypt and Iran. The RSF-Rapid Support Forces are being supported by the (Russia) Wagner group and the UAE. Neither faction has backing in the civilian population. 

A significant contributing obstacle to peace in Sudan is how the media has portrayed this

conflict as internal to Sudan. According to Al Jazeera, the RSF has hired an Israel-linked Canadian lobbying firm to maintain the narrative that the civil war in Sudan is an internal conflict. In doing so, Canada is legitimising the RSF faction. At stake is the gold trade, which is an important trade for both the UAE and Russia as a counterweight to the US dollar.

From CBC:

Canada has capped Sudanese refugees at 3,250. So far 1,750 have resettled (about 400 family units)

Canadian Sudanese feel Canada is not doing enough in terms of allowing refugees in, and leveraging its power for a negotiated peace. 


On May 15, 2023, the UN commemorated, for the first time in its history the Nakba – or catastrophe – the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through the violent displacement and dispossession of their homeland, property, and belongings.  The Nakba violently forced between seven and eight hundred thousand Palestinians into becoming refugees, almost overnight. Seventy-six years later, the global Palestinian refugee population has significantly grown to being the largest refugee population in the world. Today there are 7.2 million Palestinians living in exile, 5.9 million of them are registered as refugees with the UNRWA. Palestinian refugees continue to hold on to the keys of their homes in hopes of one day returning to their lands.

According to UNRWA, there are 1.7 million Internally Displaced Palestinians currently in Gaza alone. That constitutes 85% of the population there. Many were residing in refugee camps in Gaza, and most have been displaced repeatedly since the 1948 Nakba or catastrophe. Israel has been escalating ethnic cleansing campaigns to raid, demolish, and occupy Palestinian towns in the West Bank, forcing unprecedented internal displacement.

In Gaza, the genocide has been ongoing for 256 days. During this time, the occupying Israeli forces have committed 3,315 massacres, left behind 7 mass graves, destroyed more than 450,000 homes, targeted 361 healthcare facilities, targeted 150 displacement shelters, killed more than 47,000 Palestinians including more than 15,000 children, 498 healthcare workers, and 151 journalists.

This genocide is very close to home for the Palestinian community in Edmonton where more than 13 families have lost over 203 loved ones in Gaza since October. Protesters in Canada and across the globe have called on governments to condemn the genocide, impose two way arms embargoes and sanctions, call for the release of all hostages – Israeli and Palestinian -- and an end to the siege on Gaza.