This world day was previously known as the African Refugee Day, but in 2001 the United Nations General Assembly declared it as World Refugee Day with the aim of making visible and helping millions of people living as refugees, displaced and awaiting asylum in other countries due to armed conflicts, violence and persecution to which they are subjected in their nations of origin.

The date was chosen to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This document and its 1967 Protocol constitute the only legal instruments that cover the international protection of refugees. According to its provisions, refugees deserve at least the same standards of treatment as other foreigners in a country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.

At the end of 2019, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose to almost 79.5 million. Among them, 26 million refugees (20.4 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – and 5.6 million Palestinian refugees under the mandate of UNRWA – the agency for Public Works and Relief of the United Nations for Palestine Refugees in the Near East-). UNHCR’s Global Trends report notes that the chances for refugees hoping for a quick solution to their plight have diminished: in the decade beginning in 1990, an average of 1.5 million refugees were able to return home each year, but in the last decade that number has dropped to around 385,000 people, which means that the increase in displacement today far outweighs the solutions.