Refugees stand up to the test of courage
GENEVA, June 24 (UNHCR) - It was a test of strength but the odds were heavily stacked against the underdogs. On one end, eight hefty-looking people flexed their muscles confidently while on the other end, their slightly-built opponents approached the frontline hesitantly.
Both sides assumed their positions in the tug-of-war. The whistle blew and they pulled the rope with all their might. After a few tense minutes of deadlock, the underdogs, slowly but surely, managed to gain ground. They left their opponents sprawled on the ground as the crowd erupted in cheers and ululation.
The refugee team had beaten the UNHCR team in both the men's and women's categories. It was a climactic end to the World Refugee Day celebrations in Zambian capital Lusaka, proving yet again the strength and resilience of refugees.
Courage - the theme of this year's World Refugee Day - shone through in global activities surrounding the annual event on June 20.
In Paris, students took part in a "Hurdles of Hope" race sponsored by 400-metres hurdles world champion Stephane Diagana to symbolise the many obstacles on the road to exile. Teamwork and sportsmanship won the day in Kazakhstan, where refugees young and old participated in a family sports day.
A different kind of family affair took place in Indonesia, where some 100 Afghan, Iranian, Somali and Congolese refugees went on a safari tour with elephant rides and sightings of birds, monkeys and walruses.
World Refugee Day was also celebrated through arts and cultural events. Romania held a festival of films on asylum-related issues, including "Hotel Rwanda", "Death in Exile" and "Carla's Song". Bucharest also hosted a painting and ceramics exhibition featuring the works of two refugee artists - a Liberian sculptor and a Congolese painter who fled home at the age of 17 with nothing but her beloved paintings.
In Cairo, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam opened an exhibition of refugee children's paintings after the young artists gave him a private tour of their work at the Townhouse gallery, one of the most popular galleries in Egypt.
More than 1,000 school children from all over Belarus, including young refugees, sent their drawings, poems and short stories for the UNHCR competition, "Belarus, you warmed us up". Though varied, the entries shared the themes of kindness, tenderness and a desire to help people in trouble. Finalists were treated to a gala concert and World Refugee Day T-shirts and souvenirs.
Inspired by the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in camps and transit centres, theatre company "No Made In" staged a play, "Transition", in Paris.
Music also helped to break physical boundaries, with UNHCR participating in a Geneva music festival. UNHCR co-organised two concerts at this year's Fête de la Musique - the Oriental Music Ensemble from Palestine and the Mostar Sevdah Reunion from Bosnia and Herzegovina, both affected by war and exile. The Geneva-based refugee agency also had a stand at the festival to distribute awareness materials and sell wristbands calling for a "Better Future" and T-shirts designed by renowned cartoonist ZEP.
Another concert for and by refugees was held in Moscow. Among the audience was Congolese refugee Zenera Besala, who said, "We need courage like nothing else. I was a student in Moscow when war broke out in my country in 1997, and for six years I had to apply and re-apply in order to finally receive temporary asylum status in 2003. Is it hard to cope with refugee life? Yes. But can I ever lose heart? No, refugees have to find the courage to move on."
Guinea took it one step further by launching an appeal for peace on World Refugee Day. In a special session on Monday, the Guinean Parliament joined refugees in adopting the Conakry Declaration, a call to African nations and the international community to prevent civil conflicts and to ensure refugee protection.
"This task is not only the responsibility of the executive," said the President of the Parliament, adding that refugee protection must also be supported by legislation.
As Rwandan genocide survivor Esther Mujawayo noted on World Refugee Day in Ethiopia, stressing the importance of burden-sharing for refugee problems: "Do not turn away simply because courageous refugees are supposed being able to take care of themselves. They always need someone to listen to their call."