Statue of Liberty event to mark first "World Refugee Day"
The U.S. National Park Service and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees today announced plans to mark the first World Refugee Day next year with a spectacular sound and light show at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
The June 20, 2001, event is aimed at highlighting the courage and contributions of millions of refugees worldwide. It will be staged by French artist and producer Gad Weil, who unveiled plans for the project today at a ceremony near Paris' smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty, near the Grenelle bridge on the Seine.
"There can be no better place to mark the first World Refugee Day than the Statue of Liberty," outgoing High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said in Geneva on the eve of UNHCR's 50th anniversary. "Its golden torch shines as an international beacon of hope for millions of refugees - past and present - who have fled oppression and persecution."
Mrs. Ogata said World Refugee Day, declared December 4 by the U.N. General Assembly, also provides an opportunity for UNHCR to thank those individuals and nations that have opened their doors and their hearts to refugees. African nations have marked Refugee Day every June 20 since 1975, but this is the first time it will be recognized worldwide. The celebration will also feature an educational programme to showcase the art and literary work of both refugee and non-refugee children throughout the world.
"The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are powerful reminders of the tremendous generosity shown by those who have given life-saving refuge to the uprooted and who continue to support UNHCR's work on behalf of the world's refugees," Mrs. Ogata said. "We are also reminded of the tremendous contributions that refugees have made in their adoptive communities worldwide. The courage and perseverance of refugees in overcoming all odds is well-worth celebrating, even if our longevity as an agency dealing with the scourge of human displacement is not. Refugees deserve our respect."
National Park Service Associate Director Kate Stevenson said "the National Park Service is honoured to host the first World Refugee Day at the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Clearly, the event is a milestone in the history of the park. What more appropriate event to hold at the location of 'Liberty Enlightening the World', the name given to the Statue of Liberty by artist Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. The monument symbolizes the living reality of freedom and opportunity around the globe. Woven into the history of the Statue are the aspirations and contributions of the millions of immigrants, many of them refugees, who helped build their new homeland."
The event also honours the work of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The organization currently cares for 22.3 million uprooted people worldwide. Tomorrow, the date of its founding in 1950, UNHCR begins a series of worldwide events marking its 50th anniversary. UNHCR's 5,000 staff members in 120 countries protect and assist refugees in some of the most remote and dangerous places on earth. The humanitarian agency has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on behalf of the dispossessed.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island will remain open on June 20th, as the event will be staged at night. The production (which will be done at the base of the monument without touching the Statue) will be viewed from the water.