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World Refugee Day 2003: United States of America

World Refugee Day 2003: United States of America

20 June 2003

Opening the World Refugee Day ceremony in Washington, D.C. © UNHCR/H.Farhad

"It is very appropriate that this day is dedicated to the refugee youth - for all that they must survive and the potential that they represent," said UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at the launch of World Refugee Day in Washington, DC. Alongside US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Jolie opened two youth exhibits at National Geographic Explorer's Hall and noted, "This day should be the beginning of all of us deciding we should do more for others everyday."

The winning entries of the World Refugee Day poster contest, sponsored by Jolie, were announced at the ceremony and embraced the theme "Shared Wishes, Shared Dreams: Refugee Youth and Us". Chosen from over 400 entries, Grace Huang, Anne Dorsey and Giovanna Reed each accepted awards in their respective age categories.

Armitage noted that the young artists were "today serving as ambassadors for the world's refugees, but in effect ambassadors for all Americans, helping to show the best of our refugee nation with all of its variety and heartfelt values."

Speaking on behalf of refugee youth, Nargiz Alizadeh, a 13-year-old Afghan, recounted her family's escape from Taliban rule and the consequential hardships she endured. She was separated from her father and denied a formal education for fear of being killed. Recently resettled in the United States, Nargiz still deals with the sadness of having to leave Kabul, but is resilient and grateful.

"In America, I can attend school, become an artist and practise my religion. I have the freedom to give this speech today," she said. Nargiz also shared her story as part of the AjA project, "Lives in Transition: Expressions of Refugee Youth", on display at the hall in partnership with UNHCR and National Geographic.

A catalyst for thought and a call to action, the commencement of World Refugee Day indicated promise at the hands of a new generation.

"I know that it can feel overwhelming for a person in a different country or a country that has so much, to imagine how we can possibly help someone else somewhere else in the world," said the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. "But we can. Each one of us can. We can educate ourselves. We can try to understand others, who they are, what they believe in, what they've come from and what they are going through now; to see who they are beyond the headlines."

Events began on June 19 with a special performance by the Silk Road Dance Company at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, which was standing room only and featured a brief presentation on World Refugee Day.

Events continued throughout the weekend (June 21 and 22) with other highlights such as a sold-out theatrical performance of Ping Chong's "Children of War", featuring refugee children from Afghanistan, El Salvador, Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

There was a joint event sponsored by UNHCR, the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots programme and the Capital Children's Museum, in which young Roots & Shoots members from New Jersey presented a check to buy soccer balls for refugee children in Lugufu camp in Tanzania, where Jolie had recently visited with UNHCR.

The UN refugee agency again partnered with National Geographic on June 22 to feature an afternoon of performances by refugee artists from all over the world. For many who attended, it was the first time they had heard of World Refugee Day and joined in the commemoration, but quite a few noted that these celebrations were becoming an annual favourite.

Among the guests at the opening ceremony were UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.