World Refugee Day Commemorated in Nairobi

Nairobi,  20 June, 2016 – UN Refugee Agency in Kenya joined the world in commemorating the strength, courage and resilience of the over 60 million refugees globally, and 600,442 refugees in Kenya during this years’ World Refugee Day. The event held at the National Museums of Kenya was themed ‘Get to Know Refugees, People like You and Me’ with key conversations focusing on UNHCR’s ‪#‎WithRefugees Global‬‬‬‬ Campaign.

In his remarks, Mr. Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Kenya Country Representative thanked the Government of Kenya for their generosity towards refugees, the donor community, the United Nations and partners for supporting the Kenya operation. He also read a statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, that read in part “UNHCR stands together with refugees, on World Refugee Day and every day – and on 19 September we want the world to stand with us. By doing so we can send a message to world leaders that they must act.”

The key highlight of the event was the 5 refugee athletes who will be competing in the Rio Olympics. The athletes were unveiled to a rousing applause from the refugees, the Government of Kenya officials, diplomatic corps, UN Agencies and partners that graced the occasion. The athletes expressed their gratitude to UNHCR, Tegla Loroupe Foundation and the International Olympics Committee for believing in them.

‘This is our day and we are very happy. We are also happy that the High Commissioner visited us while he was in Kenya. He is so humble and he sat on the grass with us,’ said one of the athletes originally from South Sudan.

Tegla Loroupe, a legendary Kenya athlete and the founder of Tegla Loroupe Foundation that has been training the refugees for Rio Olympics, gave a moving testimony of her journey as a struggling athlete in Kenya and the peace races she has organised to unite communities, including those in Kakuma refugee camp in partnership with UNHCR.

‘This is our day and we are very happy. We are also happy that the High Commissioner visited us while he was in Kenya. He is so humble and he sat on the grass with us.’

“Refugees should never lose their dignity,” said Tegla. ”The refugees selected during the peace race have received professional training and five of them will represent ‘Team Refugees’ at the Olympics.” She thanked the International Olympics Committee (IOC) for giving refugees the life-changing opportunity. “The spirit of refugee athletes is there. They just need you and me to help them,” she added.

Tegla Loroupe and the athletes, 5 of whom will be competing in Rio

Tegla Loroupe and the athletes, 5 of whom will be competing in Rio

While addressing the event that was packed with cultural performances, skits and dances from refugee and Kenyan communities, the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee called for dignified and safe return. “Return should be accompanied with dignity and safety. This is what refugees expect from the UN Family,” he said.

“Refugees should never lose their dignity.”

The partners in the refugee operation echoed the need to explore targeted solutions for refugees and urged all stakeholders to recognize youth as great contributors in their humanitarian efforts as reiterated in the just concluded Global Refugee Youth Consultations held in Geneva.

The celebrations also highlighted the importance of empowering youth through art and music. This is currently being executed through the Artists for Refugees Project with support from Victor Ndula, a cartoonists and illustrator, and Henry Ohanga, a hip-hop artist commonly referred to as Octopizzo.

Rwandese dancers performing their traditional dance Photo UNHCR/M.Ndubi

Rwandese dancers performing their traditional dance Photo UNHCR/M.Ndubi

The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Mr. Bob Godec said the U.S has increased its resettlement quotas from 70,000 to 85,000 yearly. “Refugees are no different from us. They are fleeing violence. The U.S stand with refugees. We stand together.” He added that humanitarian leadership is essential in the current refugee crisis. ”Keep the borders open and keep aid flowing to provide for the most vulnerable people in the world.”

The Ambassador noted that humanitarian systems were under strain because the needs are more than the resources available. Mr. Godec affirmed that the Summit to be held in September 2016 will leverage new resources aimed at addressing the growing global refugee crisis.

”Keep the borders open and keep aid flowing to provide for the most vulnerable people in the world.”

The Principal Administrative Assistant in the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Joseph Irungu stated that there was no vacuum in refugee management since the disbandment of the Department of Refugee Affairs. He pointed out that there is a Secretariat in the Ministry which is taking care of refugee affairs.

While reading a speech on behalf of Hon. Mr. Joseph Ole Nkaissery, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government, Mr. Irungu acknowledged Kenya’s international obligation to protect refugees and asylum seekers and called on the international community to also step-in.

While maintaining that Dadaab camps will be closed, the Interior Ministry assured refugees that repatriation will be done in a humane way. He further added that the Government will review the Refugee Act 2006 as well as the Refugee Policy.

UNHCR released the Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015 on World Refugee Day. View the full report here.

By Modesta Ndubi, UNHCR Nairobi.