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World Refugee Day to focus on young refugees

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World Refugee Day to focus on young refugees

19 June 2003

20 June 2003

GENEVA - A classical music concert at UNHCR's Geneva headquarters, an Africa symposium in Tokyo with High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, a celebrity-led refugee festival in the United States, as well as charity auctions in Italy and Spain are just some of the events honouring millions of refugee youths - the focus of this year's World Refugee Day on June 20th.

In more than 70 countries Friday, UNHCR staff, partner agencies, government officials, local celebrities and business leaders will draw public attention to young refugees. "Refugee Youth: Building the Future" has been picked as this year's theme, in an effort to highlight the plight of young refugees whose coming of age has been interrupted by the trauma of war and exile. Out of an estimated 20 million people that UNHCR helps today, seven million are youngsters.

"Being driven from one's home and one's country is a trying experience for everyone but it is particularly tough for young people, deprived of education and elementary stability that young people in many parts of the world take for granted," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. Lubbers is spending World Refugee Day in Tokyo, Japan, where he is co-chairing an Africa symposium with his predecessor at the helm of UNHCR, Sadako Ogata.

In Washington, D.C., UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and senior US government officials joined by a 13-year-old Afghan refugee will launch a three-day festival featuring diverse refugee cultures from around the world.

In Switzerland, UNHCR staff and invited guests will attend a classical music concert at the agency's headquarters. Their guest of honour will be UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador for the Arab world, the Egyptian actor and playwright Adel Imam.

In Italy and Spain, the day is being marked by celebrity auctions to raise funds for refugee youth programmes, while in the United Kingdom a series of club nights in London and Manchester will be raising awareness of refugee issues among local young people.

UNHCR staff in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are marking the day by sending off the first organised convoys of Angolan refugees returning to their homes after nearly three decades of civil war. This year, an estimated 150,000 people are expected to go back - nearly one-third of Angolans driven from their country by the conflict.

Elsewhere in Africa, from Sierra Leone to Uganda to Tanzania, publicity campaigns and performances by local artists are raising awareness of some of the ills that befall young refugees who often face forced military recruitment, sexual exploitation and various forms of violence and deprivation.

Events marking World Refugee Day are also being held across Latin America from Colombia to Panama to Mexico to Peru. They include music festivals, children's art exhibits and painting contests involving young refugees.

In West and Central European nations, UNHCR staff and refugee rights groups are using World Refugee Day not only to raise funds for refugee programmes but also to counter negative stereotyping of refugees and asylum seekers at a time when the expanding European Union moves toward harmonising its asylum policies.

Next Thursday in Geneva, in an event traditionally linked to World Refugee Day, the High Commissioner will officially present this year's Nansen Refugee Award to Dr. Annalena Tonelli of Italy. She has devoted three decades of her life to helping Somali communities in remote corners of the Horn of Africa.

The theme of World Refugee Day next year will be "Returning Home." The main event and the accompanying Nansen Refugee Award ceremony will be held in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the "Universal Forum of Cultures - Barcelona 2004."