Celebrations, lights, action: World Refugee Day 2008
GENEVA, June 13 (UNHCR) - From Australia through ancient Rome to the Americas, people around the globe will take part in the most ambitious and spectacular World Refugee Day (WRD) celebrations ever over the coming week.
With "Protection" as this year's global theme, UNHCR and its partners, including governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, Angelina Jolie and other Goodwill Ambassadors and refugees themselves, will stage a wide range of activities, including light shows, photography exhibitions, film festivals, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports competitions.
There will also be quizzes, drawing and essay-writing competitions, tree planting, seminars, workshops, speeches, public awareness campaigns and poetry recitals, while UNHCR will recreate refugee camp life in around 20 capitals around the world.
Aside from these showcase events aimed at raising money and awareness in major cities and donor nations, more modest but equally enthusiastic events are planned at refugee camps and settlements for internally displaced people in the run up to World Refugee Day and on the day itself, June 20.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will start his celebrations on Tuesday in London's iconic Trafalgar Square, which will be turned into a refugee camp for a day to highlight the plight of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. The world's largest packet delivery company, UPS, has generously transported for free the four tents that will nestle under Nelson's Column as well as those to be displayed in other cities.
Guterres will formally open "Experience Darfur" before releasing UNHCR's eagerly awaited annual statistics on the number of refugees, internally displaced people and other people of concern to the agency. The Trafalgar Square exhibit will include interactive games, recreated villages and refugee camps, and exhibits of relief items, including blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, soap, buckets and clean, safe and environmentally friendly stoves.
The High Commissioner will spend World Refugee Day itself attending a ceremony at the University of Nairobi after visiting Somali refugees in north-east Kenya on Wednesday and internally displaced Kenyans the following day.
Back in Europe, a colloquium of female refugees, politicians, civil activists and business leaders will gather on WRD at the Musée Galliera in Paris to discuss the state of refugee women in Syria, Burundi and France. Also on Friday, the results of an essay competition for journalism students will be announced on June 20 by the co-organizers, UNHCR and Le Monde, with the winner getting to spend a week in the field with the refugee agency.
Elsewhere in Europe, Rome's fabled Colosseum will be illuminated on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights with the UNHCR logo and the legend: "Protecting refugees is a duty. Being protected is a right." In keeping with annual tradition, the soaring Jet d'Eau (water jet) in Swiss city, Geneva, will be bathed in blue light to mark WRD.
Also in Rome, UNHCR and the Italian Coast Guard Service will honour the bravery and humanitarian spirit shown by ship captains and crew who rescued scores of boat people, including refugees and asylum seekers, in the Mediterranean last year. Those to receive the annual Per Mare Award on Friday include Sicilian skipper Gaspare Marrone, who rescued 54 people in November and another 27 just last week.
In Spain, UNHCR will highlight the importance of education with the launch of the Spanish-language version of its interactive web-based game, "Against All Odds," on Friday at Madrid's Caixa Forum Museum. On Tuesday, meanwhile, a WRD-linked photography exhibition on Darfur and Chad will open in the city of Valencia. Work by UNHCR's Hélène Caux will feature alongside images by photographers from the prestigious Magnum and VII agencies.
Another evocative photographic exhibition, "Do You See What I See," is scheduled to open at Geneva's Palais des Nations, the UN's European headquarters, as well as in Yemen and Namibia. Refugee children in Yemen's Kharaz camp and Osire camp in Namibia have documented their lives, hopes and dreams through text and image.
In the Middle East, an exciting WRD programme is lined up for Syria, kicking off at the Opera House in Damascus on Monday with a charity concert by acclaimed Iraqi oud (lute) player, Naseer Shamma, to raise money for UNHCR's Iraqi refugee programme, which faces a funding crisis.
WRD celebrations are planned in Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. In the Egyptian capital, the refugee agency will air a television special on refugees in the country, while UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam will appear on two popular TV talks shows to discuss the plight of refugees.
UNHCR offices in Uganda and Ethiopia have full programmes planned in refugee camps and settlements. But in nearby Eritrea, UNHCR has decided to forgo planned celebrations due to the rise in food prices. The agency will spend the money on feeding refugees instead - a sobering reminder of a global problem.
In South Africa, recently swept by a wave of xenophobic violence against foreigners, celebrations will generally be low-key and sombre. UNHCR will be attending special events in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Those invited to the latter ceremony have been asked to wear one item of black clothing as a sign of respect to some 60 people who lost their lives during the violence. Tolerance and protection will be important themes.
Over in the Asia-Pacific region, university students in the world's youngest nation, Timor-Leste, will be given free internet access next week to mark WRD and promote education.
In Canberra, key public landmarks will be lit in UN blue while Australia's Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans will address a special event hosted by UNHCR on June 20. A fund-raising breakfast to support UNHCR's humanitarian relief work will be held in Sydney.
UNHCR's office in Papua New Guinea will host an exhibition in Port Moresby of drawings and photographs by refugee children in rugged Western Province.
In Japan, the week-long Tokyo Refugee Film Festival gets under way on World Refugee Day. This is the third edition of the annual festival, which keeps growing in size and popularity. This year, the festival focuses attention on the human side of refugees. Refugee film festivals will also be held in Hong Kong, Mexico, Poland and Venezuela.
In India, the highlights of WRD will include a clothes drive and a cultural extravaganza run by UNHCR as well as a free health camp for refugees, organized by the refugee agency's partner, New Delhi YMCA. Clothes donated to UNHCR's office in New Delhi will be distributed on June 20.
In the Americas, meanwhile, the winners of the second World Refugee Day essay contest for high school students will be announced on June 20 in Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle. Students taking part in the contest, co-organized by UNHCR, must write on the integration of urban refugees.
The following day, UNHCR and local partners will stage the 6th World Refugee Day Festival at the Lake House in Chapultepec Park. The festival will include a wide range of cultural activities, including a concert performed by refugee and Mexican musicians.
In Argentina, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Osvaldo Laport will attend a tent exhibition in Buenos Aires, while one of the world's great bookshops, El Ateneo in the Argentinian capital, and sister stores will be handing out UNHCR bookmarks based on a local awareness campaign.
In neighbouring Chile, President Michelle Bachelet - a former refugee - will meet UNHCR Regional Representative Cristian Koch and refugees living in the country, including some of the more than 100 Palestinians recently resettled in Chile after fleeing the violence in Iraq.
UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone will lead World Refugee Day celebrations in the United States, attending a public ceremony and a film screening at the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C. Johnstone will also present a Humanitarian of the Year Award to Sudan-born Chicago Bulls basketball star Luol Deng. The former refugee has in the past year become a key supporter of UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign, which promotes education and sport for refugee children.
Other celebrity supporters of UNHCR in the United States will be helping to promote the theme of protection. A special message from UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie will be released on video-sharing website YouTube around the world next Wednesday, while Deng will invite YouTubers and Facebook users to join an online campaign to "Give Refugees a Hand."
The messages by Jolie and Deng are examples of how UNHCR is using social utilities and new media to reach out to the online community and to get people involved.
Meanwhile best-selling author Khaled Hosseini, a goodwill envoy to UNHCR in the United States, will take part in a discussion on his homeland of Afghanistan with a distinguished panel of experts and opinion leaders in San Francisco. The work of photographer Zalmaï, another former Afghan refugee who will soon publish a book on Iraqi refugees with UNHCR support, will be featured in a special New York exhibition.