Every year on June 20th, UNHCR commemorates WORLD REFUGEE DAY honouring the resilience and courage of millions of people who have been forced to flee war, persecution and violence. In 2020, we marked World Refugee Day against a backdrop of record displacement figures and dramatic social change. The entire world is grappling with the devastation of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed raw social inequalities in our societies.
The challenges we face today have created a connectedness that transcends borders. Refugees around the world are contributing on the frontlines of the pandemic, despite living in extremely vulnerable conditions. Whether it’s the fight against COVID-19 or the fight to end racism and discrimination, everyone has a role to play. Everyone can make a difference and every action counts.
In commemoration of World Refugee Day this year, UNHCR held a special online screening of “An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines,” which delves into the stories of Jewish refugees who escaped the Holocaust and found refuge in the Philippines through President Manuel Quezon’s then-daring Open-Door Policy. This act of kindness would open even more doors for refugees in search of protection in Philippine shores through the years.
Internationally the film has garnered praise for its inspiring narrative, and has been shown at the United Nations headquarters in New York in observance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January this year.
Following the screening, UNHCR Philippines Goodwill Ambassador and broadcast journalist Atom Araullo led an esteemed discussion panel to further expound on our country’s legacy of acceptance and generosity from different perspectives, and weigh in our current efforts to alleviate today’s refugee crisis on a global and local scale.
As we face unprecedented displacement figures, a global health crisis, and the fight for a more just, fair, and inclusive world, this event highlighted the plight of refugees past and present, and what everyday citizens can do to help—reminding every Filipino that even small acts of kindness can extend across countries, past borders, and through generations.
Watch the World Refugee Day 2020 Panel Discussion here.
“I grew up in the Philippines, born and raised. Life in the Philippines offered me the opportunity to understand life in its true sense. Not the Hollywood style of life, but the true difficult existence that people have… That allowed me to take what I learned and transmit it to my children and to my wife… to really contribute as much as they can with their lives to people who do have needs.“
– JACK SIMKE
Descendant of Jewish “Manilaner” refugees
“I have met so many of the Manilaners and their descendants, and they have such an affection and a sense of belonging to the Philippines that lasts through the rest of their lives… The Philippines was not reactive, it was proactive. It saw a problem and came up with a solution and didn’t have to be asked… a solution that provides both a home, and a heart, for the people that come here.”
– SONNY IZON
Writer, producer, director of ‘An Open Door’
“The Manilaners story shows that…a country can still welcome people whom no one, no other place, will welcome and that they can become a vital part of the nation, the people. And that that will reap its own rewards simply by doing the right thing when doing the right thing is urgently, urgently needed. I think it’s a good story to model humanitarianism for us now everywhere.
– DR. SHARON DELMENDO
Historian and co-producer of ‘An Open Door’
It’s important to keep telling these kinds of stories not only because we can learn so much from the past, but when we’re talking about refugees, awareness fosters understanding, and understanding fights fear. And fear, I think, is one of the things that makes the lives of refugees harder.
– KINNA KWAN
Historian and Cultural Heritage Consultant
“We are the torchbearer when it comes to fulfilling our obligations under the Refugee Conventions…We will ensure that our policies, our rules, regulations will be geared towards the attainment of providing the necessary support to our refugees. Because we believe that they can be productive members of society. So we just need to tap them because they are an asset to any country.“
– ATTY. LITO DE JESUS
State Counsel & Protection Officer, DOJ-RSPPU
“To this day we’ve been grateful to the fact that otherwise we would not be here, if it had not been for President Quezon and for the people of the Philippines. Unfortunately not enough know about it. The people that are my generation, and the people that are just a bit younger know, but the young people do not know, and they really should know what their country did.”
– LOTTE HERSHFIELD
Holocaust survivor, Jewish “Manilaner” refugee
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