Millions to mark World Refugee Day with message to keep on hoping
GENEVA, June 19 (UNHCR) - UNHCR marks World Refugee Day on Tuesday June 20 with a simple, powerful message for the millions of refugees and displaced people around the globe - never give up hope.
High Commissioner António Guterres and goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie have both pushed the message in statements made for tomorrow's anniversary - first marked globally in 2001 - and it will be at the centre of commemorations planned in scores of countries.
"If there is one common trait among the tens of millions of refugees that we at the UN refugee agency have helped over the past 55 years, it's the fact that despite losing everything, they never give up hope," Guterres said, highlighting the theme of this year's anniversary, which he will mark in Liberia.
He said the UNHCR drew inspiration from the perseverance of the world's estimated 20.8 million people of concern to the agency - including some 8.4 million refugees - and gave added impetus to efforts to find solutions so that they could return home. He highlighted the need to encourage the more than 5 million refugees who have been in exile for five years or longer.
"All of us can do our part to give hope to the uprooted," the High Commissioner said, adding: "World Refugee Day is part of that common effort as we gather on June 20 in cities and towns, in refugee camps and in remote settlements to pay tribute to the courageous, unwavering hope of the world's refugees - and to assure them that they are not forgotten."
Actress Angelina Jolie also urged people to remember those forced to flee their homes - TV stations around the world have been clamouring to air her special statement. "I'm Angelina Jolie. For the millions of displaced persons around the world, please help keep their hope alive and remember World Refugee Day," she says in the message, recently recorded in Namibia.
In Geneva, home of UNHCR, the Swiss city's iconic 140-metre-high jet d'eau fountain and public buildings around the country will be bathed in blue - the colour of the United Nations - and World Refugee Day banners will line the Mont Blanc bridge. Australia will do likewise in Canberra, illuminating the old parliament building and other landmarks.
Other countries will host a wide range of activities, including film festivals, photo exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports competitions - including lots of soccer in a nod to the World Cup in Germany. There will also be quizzes, drawing and essay-writing competitions, tree planting, seminars, workshops, speeches, public awareness campaigns, prayer meetings, poetry recitals and an auction of refugee art. Special posters depicting the Hope theme will go up all over the world. Some countries have been organising special events linked to the anniversary for several weeks.
In Europe, Britain is marking a Refugee Week with more than 400 events planned nationwide from June 19-25. A highlight for UNHCR will be the launch of a major new campaign focusing on sports and education involving corporate partners of the agency. Details will be announced on the day, but the initiative is also aimed at helping UNHCR provide refugees with hope.
The refugee agency is also planning to contribute a special soccer ball to the winners of a tournament between resettled refugees in the town of Bolton on June 18. The ball was donated by UNHCR goodwill ambassador Giorgio Armani and signed by the England team.
Across the Atlantic in the Americas, refugees will paint a mural on a wall in the Ecuadorean city of Ibarra. It will become a permanent mark of the city's solidarity with refugees. The UNHCR office in Lago Agrio, near the border with troubled Colombia, will organise a cultural and trade fair where refugees and Ecuadoreans will play sports and enjoy traditional music and food.
A major celebration is planned at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, where a senior US State Department official is slated to give a speech to increase awareness of refugee issues and a young refugee will talk about her experiences and the hope theme.
A humanitarian award will be presented to Afghan-American author, Khaled Hoseinni, for his poignant book about refugees from his motherland, The Kite Runner. Winners of an annual poster contest will also be honoured and their work displayed. Other noted guests include former Secretary of State Colin Powell and speed-skater Joey Cheek.
In Africa, High Commissioner Guterres will spend the day in the Bo Waterside area near the Liberia-Sierra Leone border, meeting with returning refugees and displaced people as well as local residents. He is scheduled to welcome a repatriation convoy bringing Liberian refugees back from Sierra Leone, and will then accompany them on their journey home.
Across the continent in Ethiopia, refugee camps have been nominating individual refugees or refugee organisations for a Hope Award and this will be presented in Addis Ababa on World Refugee Day.
The special day will also be marked in Asia. A free Refugee Film Week is under way in Phnom Penh and will end on June 20. Organised by UNHCR and the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh, the festival features more than 20 films and documentaries highlighting the plight of some of the millions who have been forced to flee their homes, family and friends to escape persecution and warfare around the world. In neighbouring Thailand, Bangkok will host an imaginative auction of refugee art.
Activities in Pakistan, home to some 2.5 million Afghan refugees, include dances, skits and a fashion show featuring national costumes. In Malaysia, UNHCR will organise a morning carnival, including food, bazaar stalls, games, arts and crafts, films and screening of the High Commissioner's message.
Meanwhile, in an editorial released for World Refugee Day, UNHCR chief Guterres noted that while global refugee figures had dropped 31 percent since 2001, returnees often still faced a bleak future back home. He urged greater focus on ensuring countries moved forward after conflict.
"The international community owes returning refugees more than just a cooking pot and a handshake when they cross the border. We must continue to nurture their return and reintegration and to support the communities to which they are returning."
He said success in the peace-building stage was essential. "The international community needs to devote much more attention to the transition between relief and development, to rebuilding societies which have been ripped apart by violence."
Guterres urged the European Union to "take a lead in efforts to bridge the relief-to-development gap, so that institutions can be rebuilt, former enemies can reconcile, refugees and displaced people can return, and peace can take root. This would indeed be something to celebrate on World Refugee Day."
By Leo Dobbs in Geneva