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Message from Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for World Refugee Day 2003, 20 June 2003

Speeches and statements

Message from Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for World Refugee Day 2003, 20 June 2003

20 June 2003

This year's World Refugee Day on June 20 is dedicated to millions of young people whose futures have been jeopardised by war, persecution and exile. A refugee's life is never an easy one, but it's especially tough on young people who are robbed of what should be the most formative, promising and exciting years of their lives. At a time when they should be full of hope and dreams for the future, they are instead faced with the harsh reality of displacement and deprivation.

If refugee situations drag on for years with no political solution in sight, the enormous potential of whole generations can be lost in the dust of a forgotten camp. This is a real tragedy.

That is one reason why I, as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, am working so hard to find solutions for the nearly 20 million people of concern to my office - about 35 percent of them youngsters between the ages of 12 and 24. These solutions include repatriation, integration in countries of first asylum or resettlement to third countries. Achieving such solutions requires the co-operation of the entire international community - rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing.

And while we work toward these long-term solutions, we must also ensure that young refugees are given every opportunity possible to develop their potential - through a stable environment free of exploitation, abuse or forced conscription; through education and skills training to prepare them for the future; through proper nutrition and health care; and through nurturing the family unit and ensuring that those who are alone get the special help and protection they deserve.

If young refugees are not properly protected and denied opportunities to learn the skills they need to live productive, independent lives, they are likely to contribute to the next round of conflict.

I have visited many refugee camps and am always struck by the intensity and enthusiasm of young people studying in what are often just makeshift classrooms. Despite the many hardships, young refugee students are driven to learn and to excel because they know that education may be their only way out. They refuse to give up hope in a future that still holds promise. We must not deny them this hope, because their future is also our future. To build on this hope, UNHCR is working with various organizations including Norwegian athlete Johann Koss's "Right to Play" as well as Dr. Jane Goodall's "Roots and Shoots" to provide refugee youngsters with activities that are both fun and worthwhile.

So on this World Refugee Day, we honour the courage and perseverance of young refugees and we re-dedicate ourselves to helping them to make the most of their enormous potential. There is hope out there.