World Refugee Day brings refugee issues close to home
GENEVA, June 18 (UNHCR) - A feast of activities is taking place around World Refugee Day on June 20, driving home the need to find lasting solutions for millions of uprooted people around the world.
This year's theme, "A Place to Call Home", was chosen to highlight the continuing efforts of UNHCR and its partners to find durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons - through repatriation, local integration in the country of asylum, and resettlement in a third country.
"All of us need a place to call home - a place where we belong," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. "But for the millions of refugees and displaced people around the world today, home is little more than a distant dream."
The High Commissioner will join UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in Barcelona to mark World Refugee Day on Sunday. They will participate in a dialogue on "Conflicts: Prevention, Resolution and Reconciliation", help children display good luck charms for refugees at the Universal Forum of Cultures, and present the annual Nansen Refugee Award to the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Among other World Refugee Day highlights, Italy will hold an art auction, Australia will plant handmade hearts for "Field of Hearts" installations in major cities, while Ecuador will present a festival of films directed by refugees like Billy Wilder and Milos Forman.
Young refugees in Jordan will be handed disposable cameras to capture their view of life in exile, while refugee students will march through the streets of Sierra Leone to raise awareness of their situation.
Contrary to popular perception in many rich countries, the vast majority of refugees want to go home, even if their countries have been devastated by war. UNHCR on Thursday released new statistics to show that 1.1 million refugees repatriated in 2003, and that the global number of persons of concern to the agency last year fell to 17.1 million - the lowest in at least a decade.
For refugees who cannot return home, local integration and resettlement are possible alternatives. To highlight these options on World Refugee Day, Ireland will hold a press conference to show the positive contribution of refugees who have settled in the country, while Canada will celebrate World Refugee Day with a citizenship ceremony for refugees.
Many World Refugee Day events have already taken place. On Wednesday, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Jolie and United States Secretary of State Colin Powell launched World Refugee Day celebrations in Washington D.C, where they presented awards to winners of a student poster contest. Jolie also opened a photo exhibition about the return to Afghanistan.
London has already kicked off its refugee week, featuring a free festival of music, dance and visual arts by refugee artists. Albania is holding an exhibition by artists returning from exile, while UNHCR Austria has started a provocative billboard campaign to dispel myths about asylum seekers.
Elsewhere in the world, refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers are marking the occasion with concerts, dances, sports competitions, debates, writing and drawing contests.
"Despite the enormity of their suffering, refugees never give up their dream of home and all it entails," said High Commissioner Lubbers. "The fact they maintain that hope, sometimes against all odds, should be an inspiration to us all."