Statement by Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of World Refugee Day, 20 June 2007

World Refugee Day
Refugees did not leave home by choice

Every year, millions of people around the world are on the move in search of a better life. Some leave home looking for work or higher paying jobs. Others are pursuing educational opportunities or just want a change of climate. Yet for many, leaving homes and their homelands is not a choice.

Refugees are the people who take to the road against their will. Chased out of their villages and towns and separated from their families by conflict or persecution, refugees move only in search of safety.

"Refugees are the people who take to the road against their will. Chased out of their villages and towns and separated from their families by conflict or persecution, refugees move only in search of safety."

Today, World Refugee Day, is the occasion to remember those tens of millions of refugees and others who have been forcibly displaced, and to recall what makes them different. In an age of increasing globalization, when more and more people are on the move, refugees are not unique because they are away from home. What sets them apart is that they cannot return there.

"In an age when more and more people are on the move, refugees are not unique because they are away from home. What sets them apart is that they cannot return there."

A shrinking world and growing global labour market, signs of our economic interdependence, have been a boon for many. But they have also fed anxieties. And when stoked by populist rhetoric, concern about rising migration and national cohesion can easily become intolerance and exclusion. The result, too often, is a rejection of anyone who is different, whether they are looking for opportunity or pleading for protection.

In such an environment, immigration policies and borders are tightened to the point that many times they keep even those in desperate need of refuge and protection. That is both unfortunate and unnecessary. Although not easy, it is still possible to identify the refugees among the mixed migratory movements.

In recent years, with the end of a number of long-running conflicts, the number of refugees worldwide as well as the number of people asking for asylum has declined to its lowest levels in decades. This is welcome news. It should help us to de-politicize the issue of refugee protection and to combat intolerance.

But while refugees may be the most visible among the forcibly displaced, they are not the only victims. At the same time that global refugee numbers have fallen, many more people fleeing conflict are living in refugee-like conditions within their own countries, not wanting or unable to go into exile. They also deserve international protection, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expanded its aid to them.

World Refugee Day is the occasion to call attention to the millions of refugees and other displaced around the world and to their urgent needs, from water and shelter to protection and tolerance. Please join us in this effort. Whether in remote camps or in nearby neighbourhoods, there are always ways with which we can help them. It begins by remembering that they did not leave home by choice.

Thank you.