Imagine needing to permanently leave everything you have ever known and loved behind:
your friends, your job, your belongings, your family, your home.
For millions of people around the world this is not imagination.
It is reality.
They are refugees.
Signed at the United Nations in 1951 the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees sought to protect the millions of people
dislocated amid the harsh aftermath of World War II.
Since then the number of refugees worldwide has only increased.
Many more have fled their homes due to ethnic and religious persecution, gender and anti-LGBT discrimination or political repression.
Today the global refugee population is higher than ever previously recorded.
More than half of the worlds refugees come from just 4 countries.
Nearly 1 million Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar due to ethnic violence and government repression.
Ongoing civil war and inter-ethnic conflict in South Sudan have displaced more than 2 million, mostly women and children.
About 3.7 million refugees originate from Afghanistan,
now in its 20th year of war between the Taliban and the internationally recognized government.
But by far the largest single refugee population is the roughly 6.6 million Syrians displaced by their countrys decade-long civil war.
So where do these refugees go?
Some seek a better life in more prosperous countries like Germany and Sweden,
but most are simply trying to escape an immediate threat.
The most common destinations for refugees are places like Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda and Sudan,
which border the source countries and often suffer from economic and political instability of their own.
The journey is rarely easy.
Refugees typically travel with few belongings or resources,
facing starvation, dehydration, extreme weather conditions and exploitation by human traffickers.
Then there are the obstacles refugees face at their destinations.
Many countries try to prevent them from entering,
leading them to attempt dangerous routes on foot over difficult terrain or by sea on flimsy rafts, often with tragic consequences.
Others who reach a border are herded into camps where they must wait months or years for their asylum claims to be processed.
They face crowded unsanitary conditions, food scarcity, poor infrastructure and vulnerability to violence and abuse.
These bleak realities have become so common that its easy to forget they are in direct conflict with international law.
Under the terms of the Convention signed by 146 countries,
members are required to grant asylum seekers entry,
help them to file their claims and provide access to public assistance, education and other rights enjoyed by citizens.
But there is no enforcement mechanism,
and many countries treat refugees as illegal immigrants, deporting some back to face the very dangers they fled.
The problem goes beyond the legal boundaries.
Besides the 20 million recognized refugees and approximately 4.2 million asylum seekers who have applied for refugee status,
there are 5.6 million displaced Palestinians who have no destination country to take them in.
Millions more have left their homes due to rising sea levels, desertification and food insecurity driven by climate change.
They are considered economic migrants with no refugee protections.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a new wave of dislocations while devastating existing refugee camps.
Globally some 45.7 million people are internally displaced within their home countries.
With no status under international law,
they remain under the jurisdiction of their governments even when those governments have caused their displacement.