2020 World Refugee Day Statement by UNHCR Representative in Rwanda Ahmed Baba Fall

UNHCR Representative in Rwanda Ahmed Baba Fall. ©UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana

Today is World Refugee Day. It has been 20 years since the United Nations designated 20th June as a day of the year to honor the resilience and courage of the millions of refugees forced to flee their countries.

Around the world, the number of people displaced from their homes has increased.  UNHCR estimates that 1 out of every 100 people in the world has fled their homes.

It is important to remember that these are real people whose lives have been torn apart, leaving their homes, family, jobs and schools behind.

We commend the generosity of the Government of Rwanda to provide a safe haven for around 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, some for more than two decades.

Today we mark World Refugee Day against a backdrop of dramatic social change.  Not only have record numbers of people fled their homes to find safety – but the entire world is grappling with the devastation of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This global health crisis is evolving into an economic crisis, and in turn, has exposed raw social inequalities in our societies.

These are challenging times. Yet, we have seen how the pandemic has created a connectedness that transcends borders.  We have seen how ordinary people have become heroes by stepping up and leaning in to help. And refugees are contributing on the frontlines of the pandemic, despite living in extremely vulnerable conditions.

Refugees are volunteering as health workers in Nyabiheke refugee camp, making soap in Kigali and Kigeme camp, sewing masks and protective gear in Mahama and Gihembe refugee camps, helping in livelihoods in Mugombwa refugee camp and in so many other locations in Rwanda, refugees are contributing time to help the needy everywhere. In the time of COVID-19, we have witnessed how everyone can make a difference and how every action counts.

Over the years UNHCR has often found itself on the frontlines of emergencies, yet the challenges we face today are of an entirely different magnitude.

Our priority is to stay and deliver for the refugees, internally displaced and stateless people we are mandated to protect. Today we commend the commitment and good work done by UNHCR staff and partners who continue to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees in both camp and urban settings in Rwanda.

In December 2019, hundreds of partners, governments and individuals converged in Geneva and made a commitment to stand behind the UN Global Compact on Refugees and help UNHCR deliver on its mandate to protect refugees.

The Government of Rwanda made nine commitments in four thematic areas:

  1. The first was to build an effective and efficient registration documentation system including birth and marriage registration and the recognition of the legal status of displaced persons and their families;
  2. The second was to ensure sustainable use of natural resources by providing clean and renewable energy solutions in refugee and host community households, in order to discourage the use of firewood.
  3. The third was to expand tea plantations and improve necessary infrastructure that increase job opportunities for refugees and host communities.
  4. The fourth was to expand technical and vocational education and training to benefit refugees and host communities by constructing or upgrading TVET infrastructure in refugee-hosting districts, equipping them, and allocating scholastic materials.
  5. The fifth was to improve the quality of education by upgrading school infrastructure in refugee-hosting districts, equipping them and allocating scholastic materials to accommodate refugees and the host community.
  6. The sixth was to promote joint agriculture projects between refugees and host communities to create jobs and increase agricultural production leading self-reliance;
  7. The seventh was to promote refugee youth empowerment through Youth Connekt or other initiatives aiming at socio-economic transformation.
  8. The eighth was to mobilize necessary resources to include refugees in the national program for viral hepatitis infection treatment.
  9. The ninth to undertake environmental protection and rehabilitation in refugee-hosting areas.

Through these new challenges, we see the strength of those commitments being demonstrated every day. The response from the Government of Rwanda and donors to the refugee situation in Rwanda has been truly extraordinary – it shows that we are stronger when we work together.

This World Refugee Day, UNHCR is appealing to everyone to help continue this global movement of solidarity and action.

Everyone can make a difference, and every action counts when it comes to promoting inclusion, respect, and dignity for all, including refugees, internally displaced and stateless people.

Watch 2020 World Refugee Day Statement by UNHCR Representative in Rwanda Ahmed Baba Fall on YouTube.

Watch 2020 World Refugee Day Statement by UN Resident Coordinator Fodé Ndiaye on YouTube.

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