Bringing refugee issues to democracy festivals

UNHCR participates to engage in discussions on refugee issues, both domestically and globally.

Bringing refugee issues to the political festivals

UNHCR participates to engage in discussions on refugee issues, both domestically and globally.

Across the Nordic and Baltic countries, a number of democracy, political and opinion festivals are taking place on a yearly basis, gathering politicians, organizations, civil society, the private sector – and most importantly, the general public – for events and debates on current and important topics.  

UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries is regularly participating in these events, often in connection with partners and other relevant stakeholders, and engaging in discussions on refugee issues, both domestically and globally.  

Here are some excerpts from our participation in 2022: 





UNHCR participated at the World Village Festival in Helsinki, Finland, 29 May.

This year, the World Village Festival saw over 20,000 visitors at the stalls and at various talks and discussions. The theme of the event was “The boundaries of our planet”, and due to the current Ukraine emergency, and other multiple refugee situations around the world, the theme was more relevant than ever.

UNHCR participated in the One UN Village with several other UN organizations based in Finland such as UNICEF, UNU Wider, UNDP and the UN Association in Finland. The One UN Village tent focused primarily on the different elements of the Sustainable Development Goals through a wheel of fortune.

UNHCR’s stall attracted several visitors of all ages who came to interact, share their stories, and ask questions about global forced displacement and UNHCR’s work in Ukraine and its neighboring countries. UNHCR’s stall had an activity for visitors, asking them to reflect on what “a refugee” means to them.  







UNHCR participated at the Danish political festival Folkemødet in Allinge in Bornholm, 16-19 June

UNHCR gave the stage to refugee storytellers Nadia, Mousa and Salah from DFUNK to share their stories of plight, of desperate journeys, and of arriving to Europe and Denmark.  

Together with Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR co-organized the event, “When Refugee protection is too short”, focusing on the Danish approach of temporariness and the situation for hundreds of Syrian refugees to have their protection re-assessed, and what the consequences are for the individual refugees and the integration efforts in the municipalities.  

Also with Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR took part in a panel debate zooming in on resettlement – from the global, national, local and personal point of view.  

Together with the Danish Institute of Human Rights, UNHCR co-hosted and organized an event, drawing a big crowd of festival-audience, when we asked the question “Should and could Denmark outsource asylum?”, addressing the current plans of the Danish government to transfer the asylum process and refugee protection to a country outside of Europe.  





UNHCR participated at the Latvian conversation festival LAMPA in Cēsis, Latvia, 1-2 July. 

Around 19,000 people visited the eighth LAMPA Conversation festival to participate in various events on topics relevant to society.  

UNHCR joined our NGO partner, “I want to help refugees”, who organized a platform for the visitors to meet and have conversations with refugees from Ukraine, Belarus, Syria, and Iran.  

UNHCR also gave visitors the opportunity to explore life in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan through the virtual reality film “Clouds over Sidra” in which a 12-year-old Syrian girl guides the viewer through the camp.





UNHCR participated at the Swedish political festival Almedalen in Visby, Gotland, 3-7 July. 

Almedalen brings together actors from the public, private and civil society sectors to foster dialogue about society. UNHCR participated in a lively few days filled with discussions and exchanges.

Together with colleagues from other UN agencies, UNHCR discussed the role and challenges of the UN in today’s world, reflecting upon the question: “Is the UN really needed? Or is the UN, today, more important than ever?” 

UNHCR also highlighted the global refugee situation and what challenges – as well as opportunities – the Nordic region faces in the age of migration. The seminar was organized by The Nordic Council and initiated with reflections from Larysa Vakoliuk, who recently fled to Sweden from Ukraine.  

What is the future of the European asylum system and which issues will and should Sweden pursue during its forthcoming EU presidency? UNHCR discussed this question at a seminar organized by The Swedish Refugee Law Center with participation from The Swedish Migration Agency, the Former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, and Migration and Asylum Expert Bernd Parusel. 





UNHCR participated at the Estonian Opinion Festival Arvamus in Paide, Estonia, 12-13 August. 

Arvamus Festival celebrates its ten years anniversary this year and strives towards developing Estonian discussion culture. The festival aims to create a meeting place for interesting thoughts, new ideas, and bold initiatives to encourage thoughtful discussion and decision-making.

UNHCR’s Associate Legal Officer, Kari Käsper, participated in the discussion “When a migrant becomes a weapon. To repel or not repel?”, organized by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board. The discussion touched upon states’ instrumentalization of refugees and migrants to achieve political ends. UNHCR’s underlined the message that while states have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with respect for human rights, including the right to seek asylum.





UNHCR participated at the Arendal Week in Arendal, Norway, 15-17 August. 

The Arendal Week in the south of Norway gathered 150,000 participants who attended more than 1,700 events. The emergency in Ukraine, but also other situations and displacement in general, was discussed from many angles and with different focus during events organized by state actors, NGOs, private sector businesses, and researchers. 

On Tuesday 16 August, UNHCR took part in a panel debate organized by the Nordic Council of Ministers, discussing how Norway and the other Nordic countries can respond to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine in the best possible way . UNHCR’s Senior Durable Solutions Associate Erika Löfgren stressed the importance of having a long-term strategy and plan for the integration of both Ukrainian refugees and refugees from other countries.  

On Wednesday 17 August, UNHCR’s national partner in Norway, the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum-seekers (NOAS), presented its annual Current State of Asylum and Refugee Protection in Norway, followed by a panel debate with Norwegian youth politicians. 





UNHCR organized a discussion at the debating festival “Būtent” in Birštonas, Lithuania, 2-3 September

Lithuanian annual festival in Birštonas “Būtent!” (in English “Exactly) is an open, non-political, free event aiming to promote a culture of debate and listening, tolerance for different points of view, civic engagement and improving the quality of socially important decisions in the country. The festival was established with inspiration from similar events and discussion forums in other Baltic and Scandinavian countries.

This year, UNHCR organized the event, “How we succeeded in rebuilding our lives here? Refugees, who stayed in Lithuania”, focusing on the successful integration of refugees. The aim was to have a refugee integration-centred discussion with refugee participation and showcasing how local authorities in Jonava municipality welcome and support refugees. You can find a record of the 2022 UNHCR discussion here

UNHCR’s participation in Birštonas Festival this year happened for the third time.

In 2019, UNHCR organized the discussion, “Are we still afraid of refugees in Lithuania” (Read about the discussion here). In 2018, UNHCR presented two documentaries at the festival: The full-length film “Birds of God” (Dievo Paukšteliai) by Lithuanian directors Julija and Rimantas Gruodžiai, and the film “Sea of Sorrow, Sea of Hope” by Danish directors Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga. In addition, UNHCR brought virtual reality goggles, allowing participants to virtually move to one of the world’s largest refugee camps in Jordan and get a feeling of what it means to be a refugee.