A colourful World Refugee Day brings together new alliances in Central Europe

BUDAPEST, June 20 (UNHCR) – The UN Refugee Agency, in its 60th year, and the civil society mark World Refugee Day with a rich and varied programme of activities in locations throughout Central Europe. Months of preparations for film festivals, photo exhibitions and a mountain hike brought together new alliances […]

BUDAPEST, June 20 (UNHCR) – The UN Refugee Agency, in its 60th year, and the civil society mark World Refugee Day with a rich and varied programme of activities in locations throughout Central Europe.

Months of preparations for film festivals, photo exhibitions and a mountain hike brought together new alliances of media, companies, humanitarian organizations, governments and individuals supporting the UNHCR campaign “I am 1 who cares”.

The celebrations around the themes of this “1 campaign” started already in the week running up to the World Refugee Day on June 20. One day before and for the first time ever, refugees, asylum seekers and representatives of International Organizations, Government institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), climbed together to the top of Vitosha Mountain, in the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, at 2200 meters above sea level. Most of the over 100 participants of the UNHCR organized event were asylum seekers or recognized refugees. After a two hours hike on a scorching hot day they reached Cherni Vrah Peak where men, women and children from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia started to dance and sing. Later, they enjoyed a meal of local mountain cuisine in the shades of the pine forest.

Also in Romania, Poland, and Ljubljana the universal language of good food helped bridge the gap between different cultures. In the Slovenian capital individuals arranged a cooking event in an accommodation for asylum seekers. In the Slovak capital Bratislava, refugees and asylum seekers will prepare dishes from Afghanistan and other countries for the guests of a major event on the city´s largest square on the evening of World Refugee Day. Multi genre band La3no Cubano will send out good vibrations to the curious crowd on Hviezdoslav square. The members of the band know for whom they are spreading the word – the have already met asylum seekers in person in a centre in the Western Slovakian town of Rohovce ahead of the show. The event which is organized together with the non-governmental organization Slovak Humanitarian Council, will see the screening of a documentary on refugees in Central Europe: „Mirage“ is about the individuals behind the „asylum debate“, men and women forced to flee from their violence-torn home countries and thrown into a completely unknown society where they try to integrate. „Mirage“ has also been shown and discussed lively in other countries on the occasion of this year´s World Refugee Day, including Hungary and Poland.

Creative support to get the word out came also from Rita Klenk. The young Hungarian photographer speaks through her pictures – taken in camps of internally displaced people in Somalia. At the opening of an exhibition of her latest series about this African country´s „forgotten people“ in downtown Budapest on June 19, she declared: „I am 1 who cares“. Several hundred visitors saw the exhibition in the Gödör Klub in the first 24 hours, many more will follow until it closes on July 2.

At the event in the center of the Hungarian capital, the visitors could also watch a selection of creative video spots by students of the Budapest Art University about UNHCR´s work and a light show called „60 Years, 60 Lives“, a joint initiative with Magnum Photos portraying refugees in Europe from the past six decades.

A highlight of the events planned in Romania will be the spotlighting of the country´s Parliament in UNHCR blue on the evening of June 20, as a sign of respect and solidarity for refugees. During the night news show of the Romanian National TV station TVR2, a refugee teenager will switch on the blue light. Already with the first flight on the morning of World Refugee Day, the Romanian airline TAROM started screening a UNHCR clip featuring Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie completely free of charge for the UN Refugee Agency. As part of the “1 campaign, the actress will appeal to the humanitarian feelings of all TAROM passengers until 20 July. Likewise public buses in the Romanian capital Bucharest are airing the spot, bringing the number of corporate supporters to a new record.

But you don´t need to be big to support understanding for or integration of refugees. UNHCR´s Regional Representation for Central Europe in Budapest was approached by a small tour operator called “Budapesti séták” (Budapest Walks). Győző Nehéz, the chief of the company, asked to donate a guided tour for recognized refugees. A small group of Afghans was invited to visit historic sites of the 1956 Revolution (its oppression led to a massive refugee movement out of Hungary displacing hundreds of thousands to European and overseas countries).

On an afternoon preceding World Refugee Day, the youngsters and young adults were taken for a three hour walk. First, they listened politely to the explanations given by the Hungarian guide. Later, when Mr, Nehéz pulled out an album of photos from 1956 depicting buildings destroyed by Soviet tanks, politeness has turned into vivid interest. These scenes on the photos created the emotional bridge between the young refugees and the topic.

“Naturally, we don’t have any personal experiences from the war against the Soviets” – declared Ali Kohistani*, a 17 years old  boy , who’s just finished his studies of carpentry in Budapest, “but my grandfather told me a lot about it, when I was small. And yet again, new conflicts have arrived to our region.”

At the end of the tour the young Afghans took a souvenir photo with the symbol of the ’56 revolution, the flag from which the pro-Soviet coat of arms had been cut out. Mr. Nehéz’s unconventional tour has brought some events from the Hungarian past closer to them than any history class they had had in school.

Roland Schönbauer
with Zoltán Tóth in Budapest, Hungary