The sun never sets on World Refugee Day events
GENEVA, June 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is this week launching its most ambitious programme of World Refugee Day (WRD) activities ever, with major events organized for Damascus, Shanghai and Washington, DC.
And, for the first time, New York's iconic Empire State Building will be spotlit in UNHCR blue from sunset on June 20, World Refugee Day, as a sign of respect and solidarity for refugees. Other international landmarks that will turn blue include the ancient Colosseum in Rome, Geneva's Jet d'Eau and - also for the first time - the bridge across the Ibar River in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.
Following the success of last year's unprecedented live video link between guests and UNHCR staff in Washington and field operations, the refugee agency is repeating the exercise. The web platform, "WRD LIVE," will connect with Washington, DC, Malaysia, Syria, northern Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Headquarters and field staff have been planning for World Refugee Day for months and have prepared a wide range of activities focusing on this year's theme of "Home" and including light shows, film screenings, photography exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, cultural performances, concerts and sports contests, especially football in this year of the World Cup finals in South Africa. There will also be quizzes, drawing and essay-writing competitions, tree planting, speeches and poetry recitals.
UNHCR partners, including governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, Angelina Jolie and our other Goodwill Ambassadors, will be doing their part to help, and refugees in camps and centres around the world will participate. Special messages from Jolie and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres are being aired around the world.
Here are some of the many activities taking place around the world:
New York and Washingon, DC, are the focus of World Refugee Day activities in the United States. For the first time, the 79-year-old, Empire State Building, will be lit blue to honour the world's refugees. The top 30 floors of the art deco landmark will be illuminated.
UNHCR's big annual event in Washington, DC, will be held on June 18 at the State Department and include live video links with forcibly displaced people and UNHCR staff, including the High Commisioner, in Syria, DRC and Ecuador. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will host the event, which will be m.c.'d by Scott Pelley of CBS's 60 Minutes. On the 20th, UNHCR will sponsor a concert at the Kennedy Centre by Colombian singer Marta Gómez.
In Canada, meanwhile, several cities have World Refugee Day events planned, including a week of programmes in Ottawa, which UNHCR will join. In Toronto, UNHCR is organizing a day of free concerts, entertainment and a poetry contest as part of Luminato, an annual festival of arts, culture and creativity that culminates on World Refugee Day.
A highlight of events planned in Costa Rica will be a refugee micro-entrepreneur's fair at the University of Costa Rica from June 16-18. Activities are planned across Venezuela, including film festivals, photo exhibitions, handicraft fairs and cultural entertainment.
Colombia has a big programme set for June 17 in Bogotá's Javeriana University, including a play, "Patera," a dance presentation and food prepared by different refugee communities. Refugees will organize craft and gastronomic fairs as well as dance and cultural events in Bolivian cities, including La Paz and Cochabamba.
Syria will be the focal point of UNHCR activities in the Middle East. High Commissioner Guterres will travel on Friday to the governorate of Al Hassakeh to meet Iraqi refugees and then visit Palestinian refugees in Deir Ezzor governorate. He will also talk direct to Washington in the live feed link from Al Hassakeh.
On Saturday, Guterres will meet refugees in Damascus during a food distribution. In the evening, he will attend a fund-raising concert at the Damascus Opera House by acclaimed Iraqi guitarist, Ilham al-Madfai.
The week of events will also include film festivals in Aleppo and Damascus. On June 20, Guterres will attend an open day for refugees at the Azem Palace in the Syrian capital. He is expected to make an important announcement about refugees during his three-day visit to Syria.
A wide range of World Refugee Day events are also scheduled in other countries in the region, including Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
In China, UNHCR is staging a major photography exhibition at the Shanghai Expo that coincides with World Refugee Day. "Invisible in the City: the Lives of Urban Refugees," by award-winning photographer Zalmaï opened last Saturday and depicts displaced people in Johannesburg, Bogotá and Kuala Lumpur. The exhibition will run until June 30.
In the run up to World Refuge Day, UNHCR will screen three videos in Shanghai highlighting the challenges faced by urban refugees. On World Refugee Day itself, the refugee agency will host a panel discussion with Chinese actress Yao Chen about her visit to a UNHCR field operation in Asia. A special message from High Commissioner Guterres will be broadcast.
Pakistan has a wide range of activities, including a debating contest on June 15 in Islamabad for Afghan and Somali refugees aged 11-17. The topic of the contest will be: "They took my home, but they can't take my future." The main event, organized by UNHCR and the government, will be held at the national Library Auditorium in Islamabad on June 18.
In Europe, a football tournament is scheduled on June 20 in Brussels between mixed teams of asylum-seekers and Belgian celebrities. Entertainment will include sports activities for children and adults. In Luxembourg, UNHCR will set up a miniature tent camp in the Grand Duchy's central railway station on June 18 made of blue postcards containing "wishes for refugees."
In neighbouring Germany, UNHCR will help organize the 10th annual Refugee Symposium in Berlin, attended by 350-400 governmental and non-governmental delegates from June 14-15. The High Commissioner is scheduled to address the gathering on Tuesday.
UNHCR's Ireland office is organizing a mini football tournament on WRD in partnership with Sport Against Racism Ireland. Minister for Integration Mary White will attend the Dublin event, which will feature eight teams representing refugees, community groups, journalists and government agencies.
In the Netherlands, UNHCR will publish an eight-page "World Refugee Journal" in cooperation with other organizations working for with refugees. This will be distributed on June 18 in the free daily newspaper, Metro.
UNHCR's office in France will hold a press conference in Paris on June 16 and speakers will include former Afghan refugee Nadjib Sirat, who is using mountaineering in the Alps and the Himalayas to promote a more positive image of his homeland. The winner of this year's UNHCR-Le Monde journalism competition will be announced and presented with an award.
On June 18, UNHCR and Monaco's Department of International Cooperation will hold a public WRD conference attended by Princess Caroline.
There will be an umbrella parade on June 20 in Britain, which again holds a week of activities around the country to raise awareness about refugees. The parade will start at Horse Guards Parade and tour central London with the white umbrellas symbolizing the protection of refugees. Similar marches in other European cities are being organized by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles network of non-governmental organizations.
A photography exhibition by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi on ethnic Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh will be held from June 15-24 at the East Gallery in London's Brick Lane.
In the Italian capital on June 18, writers and refugees will take part in a special World Refugee Day panel discussion. Across the Adriatic in Greece, events linked to World Refugee Day will include a conference, a photo exhibition, music and dance on the island of Lesvos. On Sunday, in central Athens, UNHCR will take part in activities organized by the Greek Forum of Refugees.
In Montenegro, UNHCR will stage a public interactive event on June 18 called "Labyrinth." Visitors to the exhibit, created by art students, will be exposed to images showing different phases of refugee life.
In Zambia, WRD-linked events have been planned all week, culminating in special events on Sunday in two refugee camps and in Lusaka, where activities include exhibitions by urban refugees at selected shopping malls and a phone-in radio quiz.
In South Africa, global attention is focused on the World Cup football finals, but UNHCR hopes to use this attention to boost awareness about refugees and asylum-seekers in the country. In Pretoria, UNHCR will be marking WRD on Saturday at the Better World Village Festival. UNHCR will display a massive football shirt made up of jerseys collected by former professional footballer, Bjorn Heidenstrom, to raise awareness about refugees. Activities, including football games, are also planned this week in Cape Town, Durban and Musina.
In addition to traditional performances, music, dance and food, many of UNHCR's field offices are organizing football matches this year, involving refugees, internally displaced people, host communities, UNHCR and partner staff. This includes tournaments in some towns in Somalia, where UNHCR is otherwise avoiding high-profile events because of the security situation.
Among the more creative events in Africa, restaurants in the Ugandan capital of Kampala will serve special WRD dishes. The proceeds will go to Inter-Aid refugee projects. Ethiopia's sole mobile phone provider will send out a special WRD text message to all subscribers.
This year, UNHCR will utilize social platforms more widely than ever before to spread awareness and encourage young people to support the agency and the people it helps.
By Leo Dobbs in Geneva