UNHCR launches refugee poster campaign in Belgium

News Stories, 10 April 2008

© UNHCR

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 10 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Thursday launched a bilingual poster campaign aimed at raising awareness in Belgium about refugees and highlighting their need for protection.

Some 2,000 French and Dutch-language posters sporting the stark image of a bullet above a slogan will be displayed in public places around Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia for the next two weeks. The message in French says, "Being a refugee means saving one's life," while the Dutch poster reads: "Nobody becomes a refugee just like that."

"This year we mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution is as relevant as ever," said Judith Kumin, UNHCR's representative in Belgium. "Through this campaign we want to remind the public that refugees flee out of necessity, not out of choice."

The posters stress the dangers that refugees are escaping from, differentiating them from people arriving in places like Belgium in seek of work. They struck a chord with Iranian refugee Ashkan, who arrived in Belgium alone 10 years ago when he was 16.

"For me, asylum was a matter of life and death. Everyone can become a refugee, whether you are a president or a worker. Under the threat of violence and persecution everyone is equal," he said when shown one of the posters.

The poster campaign-funded by the Belgian National Lottery comes at a time when public opinion in European Union member states is becoming increasingly concerned about increasing irregular immigration.

At the same time, there is widespread public confusion about the difference between refugees and migrants; refugees, who have crossed borders to escape conflict and persecution, are now frequently regarded with suspicion.

Most of the world's estimated 10 million refugees remain close to their home countries and hope to eventually return. For example, most of the estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees have found shelter in neighbouring Syria and Jordan. But a substantial number travel long distances on mixed migration routes, which are also travelled by migrants in search of a better economic future.

"Only a small number of refugees succeed in applying for asylum in Belgium or other industrialized countries," noted Kumin. "However, Belgium remains an important country of asylum and Belgians can be proud of their country's record," she added.

Belgium granted refugee status to about 13,000 people between 2003 and 2007. Last year, Belgium received 11,115 requests for asylum, the lowest level since 1995. The bulk came from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Kosovo.

By Vanessa Saenen in Brussels, Belgium