Countries to mark World Refugee Day with a dizzying array of events

From live concerts of African music to football matches in Australia, the world pays tribute to the courage and resilience of millions of people forced to flee their homes by conflict and persecution.

This week UNHCR and its partners and supporters will pay tribute to displaced people in World Refugee Day-linked events.  © Christian Als

GENEVA, June 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and its supporters around the world pay tribute this week to the courage and resilience of millions of people forced to flee their homes by conflict and persecution.

World Refugee Day (WRD), which falls every June 20, is also a big opportunity for the UNHCR to spread awareness about refugees and other displaced people and to raise funds for our major operations and emergencies in places like Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and neighbouring countries, Pakistan and Sudan.

Headquarters and field staff have been planning for World Refugee Day for months and have prepared a wide range of activities focusing on this year's theme of "Real People, Real Needs" and including light shows, film screenings, photography exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, cultural performances, concerts and sports contests. There will also be quizzes, drawing and essay-writing competitions, tree planting, seminars, workshops, speeches, public awareness campaigns and poetry recitals.

UNHCR partners, including governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, Angelina Jolie and our other committed Goodwill Ambassadors will be doing their part to help, and refugees in camps and centres around the world will participate while enjoying much needed recognition.

This year, the main focus of UNHCR's activities during WRD and the week leading up to it will be in the United States, the biggest donor to the agency. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will be in America all week.

Tomorrow, he will be at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to meet journalists and present UNHCR's "2008 Global Trends" - an eagerly waited annual compilation of statistics on the number of refugees, internally displaced people, stateless people and others of concern to the agency.

On Thursday, Guterres will attend an annual UNHCR public ceremony for World Refugee Day in Washington. A number of high-profile guests are expected to appear with the High Commissioner, while the event will be led by CNN journalist Anderson Cooper. Participants will hear from a couple originating from Bhutan who were resettled in the United States after spending years in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal.

This showpiece event will also feature winning entries for a World Refugee Day poster contest under the patronage of Angelina Jolie, who has made a special WRD public service announcement that will be seen on the Internet as well as in airports, public transport and TV stations around the world. Elementary, middle and high school students were invited to design a poster around the "Real People, Real Needs" theme.

On World Refugee Day itself, Guterres will attend a breakfast at a restaurant in Chicago owned by a former refugee from Ethiopia. His table guests will include people involved in refugee issues as well as local and national political figures. The High Commissioner's week in the US will enable him to highlight the refugee issue at a time when donors are tightening their aid budgets.

Also on Saturday, UNHCR is sponsoring a World Refugee Day concert in Washington's Kennedy Centre by Congolese vocalist-bandleader Samba Mapangala, who has been composing hits for 30 years with his legendary Orchestra Virunga. The Centre will stream the concert live on its website.

The UNHCR office in New York is organizing a concert on Thursday at the Florence Gould Hall by the acclaimed Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, who have been very supportive of the refugee agency.

In Latin America, Interior Minister Fernando Gómez-Mont will preside over an official commemoration at which, among other activities, the winners of a special lottery to mark WRD will be announced. Photo exhibitions will be staged, while UNHCR will co-launch a book of testimonies from urban refugees in Mexico City. The refugee agency is trying to raise awareness about the growing numbers of urban refugees around the world.

Across the Pacific in Australia, UNHCR has a traditionally busy and full programme planned. Prominent public buildings will be spotlit in UN blue at night for the whole of this week. The annual fund-raising breakfast in Sydney will be attended by Governor-General Quentin Bryce and former Australian rugby union captain, Phil Kearns. On Sunday, the day after WRD, former refugees from Myanmar, Sierra Leone and the Sudan will take part in a football match at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

In neighbouring Papua New Guinea an exhibition will be held in Port Moresby on "Real People, Real Needs, Real Resources." It will feature drawings by refugee children as well as works by local artists. To the north in Japan, UNHCR will hold its annual refugee film festival in Tokyo, which has become part of the social calendar, attracting support and spreading awareness.

A fund-raising concert will be held in Hong Kong at a live music restaurant on Friday, while a simulated "Refugee Run" will be held 24 hours later on World Refugee Day. A small refugee film festival will be hosted by a local cinema chain, Broadway Cinematheque, from June 21-26.

In India, UNHCR's Delhi office is organizing a clothes drive for refugees. Articles collected will be distributed to the neediest families on World Refugee Day by the agency's local implementing partners.

WRD events and activities, including cultural shows, musical performances and dramas, will be featured at refugee camps across the African continent. A big ceremony is planned for Saturday at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, starting with a procession through the streets of the Kenyan capital by refugees led by a police band.

In Ethiopia, the ETV station is supporting WRD by screening a 35-minute documentary on refugees as well as an interview with the UNHCR representative. Other commemorative events include a lecture series, sport contest, art display, essay writing competition and an arts and crafts market.

In the volatile Middle East, UNHCR's Jordan office is planning a photographic exhibition and a three-day film festival at the Royal Film Commission in Amman. The screenings will accompanied by Q&A sessions.

One place where things are not going accorded to plan is Egypt, where the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic has interrupted planned WRD events in Egypt. After the Health Ministry recommended that people avoid large gatherings in closed areas, UNHCR cancelled a sold-out WRD concert in Cairo by renowned Iraqi oud (lute) player, Naseer Shamma. But Egyptians will be celebrating in other ways, including football games, photography and cultural exhibitions, and handicraft markets.

As in past years, UNHCR's headquarters home of Geneva will mark WRD week by lighting the 140-metre-high Jet d'Eau - one of the world's largest fountains - in UN blue. Flags will be flown along the Mont Blanc Bridge. On Monday, UNHCR launched its new, vastly improved website as part of activities timed to coincide with World Refugee Day. It plans to livestream some events.

In neighbouring France, a WRD conference on asylum in Europe will be held at the Goethe Institute in Paris this Thursday. European Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot is among the scheduled speakers at the meeting.

A special WRD evening is planned in Monte Carlo, where Monaco's Princess Stephanie is scheduled to present a cheque to UNHCR for its operations.

UNHCR's Cyprus office is organizing a travelling photo exhibition, which will open in Nicosia on Saturday before moving to Limassol, Pafos and Larnaca, where it will close in September. The photos of refugees are from World Press Photo, which holds the largest annual press photography contest.

In London's St Martin-in-the-Fields church, UNHCR and NewExposure will exhibit photographs taken by Iraqi refugee children in Syria. The UNHCR office is also co-funding the third edition coming out on Wednesday of New Londoners, a free newspaper highlighting the positive contribution of refugees and asylum seekers. It features a cover story on Ben Affleck, the American actor who directed the video at the centre of UNHCR's flagship "Gimme Shelter" campaign, which will be given prominence during the coming week.

This year, UNHCR will utilize social platforms more widely than ever before to spread awareness and encourage young people to support the agency and the people it helps. In addition to seeding activity, staff will send Twitter updates from global events as well as posting videos and photos on YouTube and Flickr. UNHCR's MySpace and Facebook pages will receive regular updates.

Enjoy the week and remember the refugees.

By Leo Dobbs in Geneva