WhatsApp's new Refugee Nation Flag

WhatsApp's new Refugee Nation Flag

WhatsApp's latest betas releases includes a new flag emoji design: the Refugee Nation Flag. Based on a 2015 design by a Syrian refugee, the flag is an unofficial banner of displaced persons the world over. However, it is not currently recommended for emoji support by the Unicode's Emoji Subcommittee.

Editor's Note: On June 8 2021 WhatsApp was released for Android devices, officially brining the Refugee Nation flag to the platform's emoji keyboard. At the time of writing it is still not recommended for wider emoji support.


Above: the new Refugee Nation Flag emoji as it appears within WhatsApp for Android and iPhone's running WhatsApp for iOS. Image Credit: WABetaInfo.

The emoji is created within the beta release using a zero width joiner (ZWJ) sequence of the 🏳️ White Flag, an 🟧 Orange Square, an ⬛ Black Large Square emoji, and a final 🟧 Orange Square.


Above: The Unicode characters used to create WhatsApp's Refugee Nation Flag emoji. Image: WhatsApp emojis / Emojipedia composite.

This new addition first was discovered by WABetaInfo when reviewing the platform's new beta for Android devices. It has since also been released on Apple device's via the WhatsApp for iOS beta.[1]

While the new flag emoji is shown within WhatsApp for Android's own emoji keyboard, WhatsApp for iOS does not have its own custom emoji keyboard for emoji input. Therefore iOS users with the latest beta cannot directly enter the new emoji via WhatsApp, even though it will render within messages.

The new Refugee Nation Flag is the only new emoji found within these beta releases, with WhatsApp yet to provide support for 2020's Emoji 13.1.

Furthermore, the Refugee Nation Flag is far from first time WhatsApp has created an emoji design not recommended for general interchange (RGI) by Unicode.

🏴📲 WhatApp's Non-RGI Adventures

WhatsApp first introduced its own comprehensive set of emoji designs for Android devices in late 2017. Prior to this, it displayed Apple's design set across all platforms. However, 2017 was not the first time WhatsApp included its own custom emoji.

In July 2014, while utilising Apple's designs, WhatsApp quietly debuted its first custom emoji design. The platformed provided support for the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England without any directive from Unicode[2].


Above: the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England emoji as it first appeared on WhatsApp in 2014.

Come 2016, this was joined by the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Flag: Scotland and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Flag: Wales, as well as an Olympic Rings emoji.[3]


Above: WhatsApp's short-lived Olympic Rings emoji, which debuted just in time for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

While 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Flag: Scotland and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Flag: Wales were all recommended for support by Unicode in Emoji 5.0[4] via emoji tag sequences, the Olympic Rings was removed from the platform in August 2016.

WhatsApp's next non-RGI adventure came when it introduced its aforementioned custom emoji design set in late 2017, providing support for a 🏴󠁵󠁳󠁴󠁸󠁿 Flag for Texas (US-TX) amongst all its brand new designs for RGI flags. Flag for Texas (US-TX) was implemented via an emoji tag sequences: the means through which 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Flag: Scotland and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Flag: Wales were officially recommended for emoji support. Like the new Refugee Nation Flag, the 🏴󠁵󠁳󠁴󠁸󠁿 Flag for Texas (US-TX) is also supported within WhatsApp for iOS even though there is no direct means of inserting the emoji from the iOS emoji keyboard.

This was followed up with non-RGI support for the 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag in March 2019, though unlike the Flag for Texas (US-TX) the 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag has since been accepted by Unicode and introduced across platforms via 2020's Emoji 13.0.

Unlike the three subdivision flags for Great Britain, however, 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag was a draft candidate at the time of its introduction by WhatsApp and subsequently Twitter.


Above: the 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag as it first appeared on WhatsApp for Android in 2017. Photo: Jeremy Burge / Emojipedia.

The 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag was constructed not via a emoji flag sequence or emoji tag sequence, but rather a zero width joiner (ZWJ) sequence (pronounced as "zwidge" sequence).

An invisible character when used alone, a ZWJ can be used to present emoji sequences with a single emoji design in a similar manner to emoji flag sequences, emoji tag sequences, and emoji modifier sequences that provide skin tone support to most humanform emojis.


The new Refugee Nation Flag is now the latest non-RGI emoji introduced by WhatsApp via a ZWJ sequence.

However, it has a distinct feature compared to these other non-RGI flags discussed above.

While the flags of those three nations of Great Britian, the 🏳️‍⚧️ Transgender Flag emoji and even the still non-RGI Flag for Texas (US-TX) were put forward as emoji candidates via Unicode's emoji proposal process, the new Refugee Nation Flag does not appear to have been formally proposed to the Emoji Subcommittee prior to its inclusion on the WhatsApp emoji keyboard.

🔮 Will this come to other platforms?

This flag is currently only available to users of WhatsApp, and it is currently only in a beta releases (the beta for WhatsApp for Android, and the iOS beta for Apple devices).

As with all beta software, the contents of this WhatsApp update are subject to change. It seems likely that this will be included in a final release in the coming months, unless there is a change of heart between now and then.

At the time of writing, the Refugee Nation Flag is not listed as a draft candidate for any future emoji release, nor does it appear to have been submitted to the Unicode Consortium for consideration, according to this public list of proposals.

Recent changes to Unicode submission criteria effectively prevent “regional and geopolitical flags” from being approved if they don’t have a corresponding region code. A straight reading of the criteria would indicate this flag would not be accepted, if submitted.

The alternatvive case could be made that this flag fits the criteria of “other flag”, which is the category flags like 🏳️‍🌈 Rainbow Flag and 🏴‍☠️ Pirate Flag fit under.

Regardless, companies like WhatsApp, or any other emoji vendor have the choice to support emoji sequences not recommended by Unicode, and so others are free to add this flag if they see it a useful addition.

In the meantime, this is effectively a WhatsApp-only emoji, and will work within the platform as intended, and show as the full emoji sequence if sent to other platforms.

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  1. An earlier version of this article reported that this new flag emoji was exclusively released on the WhatsApp for Android beta. It has since been updated to include the iOS beta, which was released shortly after this article's original publication. ↩︎

  2. When first introducing the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England emoji to its platform, WhatsApp constructed this emoji via the 🇽 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter X and 🇪 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter E. This followed the same pairing mechanism of regional letter symbols used by the other national flag emoji flags. However, other emoji flags constructed via an emoji flag sequence were done so based on the internationally recognized ISO 3166-1 list of two-letter country codes. ↩︎

  3. Like WhatsApp's original 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England emoji, it's original implimentation for the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Flag: Scotland and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Flag: Wales used false ISO 3166-1 codes based on regional letter symbols pairs: 🇽 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter X and 🇸 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter S for the Scottish flag and 🇽 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter X and 🇼 Regional Indicator Symbol Letter W for the Welsh flag. ↩︎

  4. Despite now supporting the recommended route for representing 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Flag: England, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Flag: Scotland and 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 Flag: Wales, WhatsApp for Android continues to support its non-RGI emoji flag sequences via it's emoji search capability. Though the tag sequence variants don't appear in the emoji keyboard itself, when you search for England, Scotland, or Wales, you will be presented with two emojis with the same flag design: one using the RGI emoji tag sequence, the other using the non-RGI emoji flag sequence. ↩︎