Message by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to mark World Refugee Day, 2008

News Stories, 20 June 2008

© UNHCR/Zalmaï

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began work in 1951 with the specific protection challenge of finding solutions for Europeans uprooted in the aftermath of World War II.

Today, the world is different and refugee protection is vastly more challenging. Old barriers to human mobility have fallen and new patterns of movement have emerged, including forms of forced displacement that were not envisaged by the '51 UN Refugee Convention.

Conflict today may be motivated by politics, but looking deeper it can also be about poverty, bad governance, climate change leading to competition for scarce resources. Recent food and fuel shortages have had an immediate and dramatic effect on the poor and the dispossessed, including refugees and the internally displaced. Extreme price increases have generated instability and conflict in many places, with the very real potential of triggering more displacement.

These new challenges make it all the more important that we find ways to address the increasingly complex root causes of displacement. And the best solution is prevention. We need to better understand what triggers displacement, why states are unable or unwilling to provide citizens with physical, material or legal security.

At the UN refugee agency, we focus on protecting the rights and well-being of refugees. This includes ensuring that those fleeing violence and persecution are given access to safety and life-saving assistance, as well as long term support during exile and eventual durable solutions for them to be able to rebuild their lives.

But our work is becoming increasingly difficult in many parts of the world. In some countries efforts to control illegal migration are failing to make a proper distinction between those who choose to move and those who are forced to flee because of persecution and violence. And all too often, we see refugees turned away at the borders of countries where they had hoped to find safety and asylum.

Now asylum and immigration issues are not always addressed in a rational, equitable or effective manner. And people in wealthy countries should be aware that most of the world's refugees are found in the developing world, and some of the largest migratory movements take place within the South. And many developing nations have shown enormous generosity in accepting refugees and deserve much more support and solidarity.

On this World Refugee Day, I would like to pay tribute to all of those who have been forcibly uprooted and to the many humanitarians who help them. Refugees show incredible courage and perseverance in overcoming enormous odds to rebuild their lives. Ensuring that they get the protection they deserve is a noble cause because refugee rights are human rights and rights that belong to us all.

Thank you.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Mediterranean Drownings: The High Commissioner's CommentsPlay video

Mediterranean Drownings: The High Commissioner's Comments

The High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed shock at news from the Mediterranean that hundreds of people were missing after their boat sank and called anew for urgent action to prevent such tragedies in the future. The latest incident involves the capsizing of a double-deck boat on Monday in waters about 120 kilometers south of Italy's Lampedusa Island.
Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian RefugeesPlay video

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian Refugees

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, Nigerian refugees get a chance to tell their stories to High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres during his visit.
Jordan: Winter Camp VisitPlay video

Jordan: Winter Camp Visit

Syrian refugees living in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan are still trying to overcome the damage done by the storm that hit the region last week. On his second day visiting Jordan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres visited the camp to see the impact of the damage. He was also able to hand them the key to their new home, a caravan that arrived part of a convoy to help those living in tents at the camp.