Young refugees lend youthful energy to World Refugee Day

News Stories, 18 June 2003

© UNHCR/A.Van Genderen Stort
World Refugee Day 2003 events promise to match the colour and vibrancy of these Rwandan dancers at last year's celebrations in Côte d'Ivoire.

GENEVA, June 18 (UNHCR) In a show of rapport with refugees, hundreds of students are flocking to Nijmegen stadium in the Netherlands to join rap group Def P en de Onderhonden (Def P & the Underdogs) in the filming of a music video for their new song about refugees, "On the Run".

Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, an eye-catching bus is cruising through the streets of Freetown carrying a group of young refugees. They are not on their way to a camp but are travelling through the capital as peace messengers to improve their relationship with the local community.

These are just some of the novel campaigns to reach out to the public young people in particular on World Refugee Day on June 20. This year's theme, "Refugee Youth: Building the Future", focuses on the potential and challenges of young refugees. Of the estimated 20 million people of concern to the UN refugee agency, about 7 million are youngsters between the ages of 12 and 24.

"A refugee's life is never an easy one, but it's especially tough on young people who are robbed of what should be the most formative, promising and exciting years of their lives," said UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers. "At a time when they should be full of hope and dreams for the future, they are instead faced with the harsh reality of displacement and deprivation."

To ease their plight, UNHCR will mark June 20 with a fundraising classical concert at its headquarters in Geneva. Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam will help raise funds for youth education programmes in Largo refugee camp in Sierra Leone, and Kasulu camp in Tanzania.

Proceeds from celebrity auctions in Italy and Spain will also go towards refugee youth projects.

"I have visited many refugee camps and am always struck by the intensity and enthusiasm of young people studying in what are often just makeshift classrooms," said Lubbers. "Despite the many hardships, young refugee students are driven to learn and to excel because they know that education may be their only way out. They refuse to give up hope in a future that still holds promise. We must not deny them this hope, because their future is also our future."

The High Commissioner will spend World Refugee Day in Tokyo, co-chairing an international symposium on refugees in Africa with his predecessor, Sadako Ogata. The symposium, which will be attended by several African officials, aims to look for solutions to Africa's long-standing refugee crises.

One such crisis looks set to end as UNHCR kicks off a repatriation operation for Angolan refugees in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on June 20. After nearly three decades of civil war, an estimated 150,000 people are expected to return to Angola this year, nearly one-third of all Angolans in exile.

To promote better understanding of refugee life, two young Ethiopians will spend three days in a refugee camp, an experience that will be documented by a local TV station. In Armenia, young refugees will start sharing their experiences and concerns through their self-run website.

In Washington, D.C., there will be a special performance of "Children of War", a theatrical exploration of the experience of war through the eyes, voices and memories of refugee children. And in Slovakia, a giant mural by a renowned political cartoonist will be displayed to show the trials and tribulations faced by asylum seekers.

On June 25, Geneva will play host to the annual Nansen Refugee Award ceremony. This year's award will go to Dr Annalena Tonelli, an Italian humanitarian worker who has spent three decades helping Somali communities in the remote corners of the Horn of Africa. The award ceremony will be attended by High Commissioner Lubbers and Swiss Confederation President Pascal Couchepin.

In all, this year's World Refugee Day will be marked in more than 70 countries worldwide.

The scene has also been set for next year's World Refugee Day, which is based on the theme, "Returning Home." The main event and the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony will be held in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the "Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona 2004."