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VIPs share refugee experience in Davos; UNHCR co-launches business partnership site

News Stories, 29 January 2010

© Global Hand UK
Lord Malloch Brown takes part in the Refugee Run, which the former UN deputy secretary-general described as "compelling."

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 29 (UNHCR) In between the power talks, presentations and networking, some of the VIPs attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos this week have been experiencing a small taste of life as a refugee on the run.

And a whole raft of top social media executives have signed up to take part in the "Refugee Run" on Saturday, penultimate day of the gathering of makers and shakers in the corporate, political, communications and humanitarian aid worlds.

They include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, International Committee of the Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger and Kumi Naidoo, international executive director of Greenpeace.

The Refugee Run provides a snapshot of the often terrifying ordeal suffered by people forced to flee their homes because of violence or persecution. In Davos, the unique simulation is being used to help some of the world's most influential people understand the plight of refugees and internally displaced people, empathize with them and support the efforts of UNHCR to help them.

Participants face a range of scenarios, including fleeing a rebel attack, navigating a minefield, dealing with corrupt border guards, struggling with language, facing up to potential sex traffickers, surviving on the black market, learning a new language, and living in a refugee camp. And at the end they discuss what they have learned and how they can help.

Lord Mark Malloch Brown, the former UN deputy secretary-general and one-time UNHCR staff member, was among those who have taken the run this week. "I've been working with refugees for many years. Nonetheless, this is a compelling way to remind one of what it's like," he said, after completing the hour-long exercise. "I felt helpless all the time, and very exposed," he added.

"Reading 1,000 books would not teach me what I learned in the past hour," said another VIP, who wished to remain anonymous. While the Refugee Run can only give a small idea of what life is like for a refugee, it is clearly enough to get people thinking seriously about the issues and of ways they can help.

Some of UNHCR's Geneva-based staff also had a go. "As a woman, I felt extremely vulnerable and afraid, and the lack of control over every aspect of my life was humbling," said Susannah Lovatt, who works in public affairs.

"When you put influential people through an experience together, highlight the problem, make them realize they can make a huge difference they just might," noted another participant.

The Refugee Run was developed by the Crossroads Foundation, a Hong Kong based organization that specializes in linking the corporate world with humanitarian aid agencies to address global challenges. Crossroads is co-hosting the run in Davos with UNHCR.

Meanwhile, UNHCR took part in the launch in Davos on Friday of a new user friendly business partnership website that will help match the needs of UNHCR and its sister UN organizations with the resources and capacities of the private sector. The portal, business.un.org, should help boost private-sector involvement in refugee work.

Companies willing to contribute time, money or resources can browse a catalogue of humanitarian needs and partnership opportunities, or simply submit ideas for collaboration. Based on shared interests, the site flags potential matches that can then be connected directly. It will offer UNHCR the opportunity to identify possible matches to help deliver aid to refugees.

"The new platform is a wonderful tool that is going to, I think, propel the Millennium Development Goals and so many other worthy initiatives of the UN and the business community, so I'm running to my computer and telling my colleagues about it because we see it as a fantastic new platform that is going to have many, many practical applications," said Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

http://business.un.org

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Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

In the semi-rural area of Kherbet Al-Souk, on the outskirts of Amman, Syrian refugees struggling to get their children into crowded state schools have taken matters into their own hands. They have set up a simple school in their small informal settlement of about 500 refugees. The families had lived in Za'atri or Al-Aghwar camps, but moved out to be closer to other relatives and to access basic services in the capital. But ensuring education for all refugee children in Jordan has proved difficult for the government and its partners, including UNHCR. According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in school. In Kherbet Al-Souk, the refugee-run school consists of a large tent where the students sit on the ground with their text books. All of the students take classes together with the younger children in the front. Before, they spent a lot of time playing, but they were not learning anything. One refugee, Jamal, decided to do something about it. Photographer Shawn Baldwin met Jamal and visited the school in a tent. These are some of the images he took.

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

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