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Message of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for World Refugee Day 2003

Message of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for World Refugee Day 2003

20 June 2003

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and US Secretary of State Colin Powell celebrating World Refugee Day in Washington, D.C. © UNHCR/H.Farhad

20 June 2003

"A refugee's life, regardless of age, is never an easy one. But for many reasons, exile is particularly hard on the young. In addition to the usual emotional strains associated with coming of age, young refugees must often confront the torments of war, violence, bereavement, sexual abuse and forced conscription.

This third World Refugee Day is dedicated to the millions of young people whose futures have been jeopardized by war, hatred and exile. At an age when they should be dreaming of life's limitless possibilities and building up their skills in preparation for adulthood, they are instead bound by the harsh reality of poverty and displacement, and condemned to what often seems to be a life without hope.

Many young refugees are also deprived of the protective shield of the family, making them especially vulnerable to various forms of abuse. In some parts of the world, boys as young as 15 are forcibly recruited to fight in somebody else's conflict, often for reasons they cannot possibly comprehend. They are among the more than 300,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 17 fighting in some of the world's most violent wars. Even if they escape death or injury, they are traumatized for life by the brutality of the experience. And while boys can end up as cannon fodder, young female refugees are often the prime targets of abuse, especially in areas where the social position of women and girls is weak.

All of us want a brighter future for our children, and strive to provide them with the means to build happy, successful lives. Unfortunately, young refugees do not enjoy those same opportunities. But visit any school in a refugee camp and you will see their remarkable determination to learn and excel. Faced with enormous odds and uncertain futures, young refugees know that education is the surest way out.

Young refugees need our help. Much is already being done by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies, through educational and other youth-related programmes, to make their lives fuller, safer and more meaningful. But while humanitarian involvement can help to ease the hard lot of young refugees, it can never be a substitute for serious and sustained efforts to find solutions for the problems that cause displacement in the first place. On World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to saving future generations from growing up without hope."