World Refugee Day - Press Briefing 2009
Tomorrow (Saturday, June 20) is World Refugee Day - a day we remember the more than 42 million uprooted people worldwide as well as the tens of millions of former refugees who have rebuilt their lives.
As the High Commissioner notes in his World Refugee Day message, this is a time of enormous global uncertainty, especially so for tens of millions of refugees and displaced people uprooted by conflict and persecution. They have lost not only their livelihoods and their homes, but their loved ones, their friends, their communities and their countries.
As we reported on Tuesday, there were more than 42 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008. And the number has grown significantly since the beginning of this year - in places such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia. Although this is a huge number, each and every one of them has a very human story to tell.
Refugees are not faceless statistics - they are real people just like us who through no fault of their own have lost everything. And those who work with refugees are struggling more than ever to meet even their most basic needs. Thus the theme of this year's World Refugee Day - "Real People, Real Needs." The sobering reality is that there are substantial gaps in our ability to provide them with essentials such as shelter, health, education, nutrition, sanitation and protection from violence and abuse.
The High Commissioner cites some of those gaps in his message.
The global economic crisis, gaping disparities between North and South, growing xenophobia, climate change, the relentless outbreak of new conflicts and the intractability of old ones all threaten to exacerbate this already massive displacement problem.
So World Refugee Day is a good time to remember the 42 million uprooted people around the world who are still waiting to go home .As Mr. Guterres says, they are among the most vulnerable people on Earth and helping them must be a priority.
UNHCR offices worldwide have prepared a wide range of activities for World Refugee Day, including light shows, film screenings, photography exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, cultural performances, concerts and sports contests. Events include a concert at Washington's Kennedy Center by Congolese vocalist and bandleader Samba Mapangala; a football match between refugees from Myanmar and Sudan in Australia; a musical performance by Kurdish refugees from Iran in northern Iraq; and a film festival in Japan.
Angelina Jolie and our other committed Goodwill Ambassadors are doing their part to help as well. We issued a press release late yesterday on an event in Washington, DC, featuring Ms. Jolie and the High Commissioner. A video of the Washington event can be viewed on the UNHCR website.
Here in Geneva, the 140-metre-high Jet d'Eau is being lit in UN blue and UNHCR flags will be flown along the Mont Blanc Bridge and on city buses and trams. UNHCR staff will take part in a city walk starting at 1145 a.m. this morning , arriving back at our headquarters at 1300 hours.
On Monday, UNHCR launched its new website as part of activities timed to coincide with World Refugee Day. On Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST in the United States (2 p.m. to 2 a.m. GMT) a new web site, www.refugeedaylive.org , will feature live video streams from Iraq, Pakistan, a refugee camp in Africa and a settlement for the displaced in Colombia.