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A World Refugee Day essential reading list 

From the US-Mexico border to Sudan, stories on the impacts of increasingly harsh policies for people forced from their homes.

This is a photograph that has been edited with a layer of orange to green gradient. It shows a line of Sudanese women who've had to escape the war standing in an arid environment. They're all carrying things in their hands. One has a child on her side. They are waiting in line to receive aid.

Once a year, on 20 June, the world focuses its attention on the rights of refugees and the challenges they face around the world. 


This year – as in many recent years – the backdrop to World Refugee Day is undeniably bleak. From maritime Southeast Asia to the European Union, and the US-Mexico border to Malawi, countries are retreating from their commitments to provide safe haven to people fleeing conflict and persecution. 


This is happening even as the number of those forced from their homes reaches historic highs. New data from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, shows that there were 108.4 million displaced people around the world by the end of last year – a number that has more than doubled in the past decade. Around 35.3 million of those people are refugees.


Syrians displaced by their country’s 12-year civil war account for the largest refugee population, at 6.8 million. They are followed by Ukrainians and Afghans, each at 5.7 million. Around 4.9 million Ukrainians have registered for protection in European countries. Still, 76% of refugees around the world continue to be hosted by low- and middle-income countries. Türkiye, Iran, Colombia, Germany, and Pakistan are hosting the highest numbers of refugees overall, collectively accounting for 38% of the global total. 


But numbers alone don’t tell the full story of the forces driving people from their homes, what they experience while searching for safety, or the impacts of increasingly harsh policies aimed at keeping them out at numerous borders around the world. 


Here’s an essential reading list about situations facing refugees and people seeking safety on World Refugee Day:

Pictured is a group of people with all their belongings gathered by a road.

Sudan refugees struggle to exit to Ethiopia, while aid workers trying to enter are turned back

Tough new security checks are making it harder for those trying to escape the civil war to cross the border.

Pictured are several Afghans refugees, women, men, children, walking in a single file line as they arrive at the Air Base of Torrejón de Ardoz, in the first flight with Afghan refugees from Islamabad on October 11, 2021, in Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain.

Germany suspends evacuation of at-risk Afghans, leaving thousands stranded

Since the chaotic Western withdrawal, German efforts to bring at-risk Afghans to safety have been slow. Now they’ve ground to a halt.

People take out the belongings of Burundian refugees from a bus which transported them from Tanzania to neighbouring Burundi, as part of a repartition program, at the Nyabitare transit site, in the Gisuru commune, Ruyigi province, Burundi, October 3, 2019.

In Burundi, returning refugees face mixed fortunes

For many striving to rebuild their lives, security risks and economic issues are constant problems.

At the center of the image is a woman bending at the waist cooking in a makeshift fire. Behind her are makeshift tents. There are trees in the background.

How the US-Mexico border became an unrelenting humanitarian crisis

Local aid organisations are struggling to keep pace with soaring needs in northern Mexico with little outside support and dwindling resources. 

Smoke and rubble are pictured in a Rohingya refugee camp that has been destroyed after a fire broke out is pictured, in Balukhali in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 5, 2023.

How arson became a gang weapon at Rohingya camps

As warring factions compete for gang territory, refugees are caught in the middle.

Liudmyla Daniuk, 60, in a wheelchair outside a hospital in Slovakia, where she was taken for surgery and rehabilitation.

What happens when Ukrainian refugees return?

More than a million refugees who fled Russia’s invasion have gone home. They are among the most vulnerable in a country still at war.

Most of the almost 400,000 Venezuelans to have sought refuge in Brazil since 2015 arrive in the remote northern state of Roraima. Here, in the Brazilian border city of Pacaraima, new arrivals wait in line to begin the registration process.

Why a Lula-Maduro alliance has Venezuelans in Brazil worried 

Brazil set an example in South America for how to welcome refugees. Might that change under Lula?

A refugee family from Kurdistan, hiding in the forest near Skupowo village, Poland, in 2021.

Why did we have to freeze in the forest?

A Syrian who was stranded last year in a Polish forest questions why Ukrainians are treated differently to refugees from other parts of the world. 

Migrants queuing in May 2021 for dinner at the Jesús El Buen Pastor shelter in Tapachula, Mexico, where they are forced to wait for months before being allowed to proceed northwards.

‘The invisibles’: A Cuban asylum seeker’s invisible odyssey 

Record numbers are attempting the treacherous continent-crossing route through the Darién Gap to the United States. Here’s one person's story.

A waiting room inside the court on the Greek island of Samos where, on 13 and 14 February alone, 11 asylum seekers accused of being smugglers were on trial.

How European courts are wrongfully prosecuting asylum seekers as smugglers

Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants have been arrested on smuggling charges. European justice systems are letting them down. 

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