Who are Refugees?

We stand with refugees in communities around the world.

A refugee is not a type of person. Those experiencing displacement include mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, teachers, artists, leaders, and innovators. They are elderly people keeping traditions alive among the children and young parents in their neighborhoods. They are women creating small businesses for a local and international market. They are children with disabilities who rely on friends and recreational resources to stay active and connected, and they are community leaders managing complex municipal projects.

In Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Colombia, and around the world, the one thing that these individuals have in common is the fact that they were forced from their homes because of violence or conflict, and are now trying to find safety and community in an unfamiliar setting. We work to empower displaced people through collaborative and community-led programming—helping families find a sense of stability amidst instability.

View of a refugee camp in Northeast Syria

There are lessons to be learned from the stories of people experiencing displacement. The first is that, in an already vulnerable group of refugees, displaced people, or asylum seekers, there are those with unique needs who are especially vulnerable. Children need safe spaces to learn, grow, and socialize. Elderly people need community connections and specialized care. People with disabilities require accommodation and integration through community engagement activities.

The second lesson is that every individual has a contribution to make to the building of a strong and safe community. Camp residents and program participants are not passive beneficiaries— they are our key partners in success. Camp residents serve as community center managers, distribution leaders, social workers, security officers, coaches, and librarians. Community decisions are made with input from the community.

One place where community participation, educational opportunity, and refugee-led innovation come together is at the UNHCR-funded Innovation Lab in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee Camp. In the Lab, residents of all ages learn and create through hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses on topics like robotics and coding. This is not just an educational opportunity — the Innovation Lab works on innovative solutions for common problems found in the camp and beyond, including a solar-powered water and air heater, a hydroponic gardening system for home-grown produce, and a hand sanitizer-dispensing robot for COVID-19 prevention.

The Innovation Lab at Za’atari Camp in Jordan

The work at the Za’atari Camp Innovation Lab is by the community and for the community — just as World Refugee Day 2021 celebrates the idea that “Together, we can achieve anything.”

Every refugee is a person with a story to tell and a contribution to offer — and a hope for a new opportunity. We stand with refugees in communities around the world and together, will work toward a safe, peaceful, and stable future for all.