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Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations: World Refugee Day


Why do we celebrate World Refugee Day?

Just as we celebrate Mothers Day, we want people to remember all the refugees in the world. For many years different countries and regions of the world celebrated Refugee Day or even Refugee Week separately. The most widespread one is Africa Refugee Day that is celebrated in several countries on June 20th.

As a sign of solidarity with Africa, where the largest amounts of refugees are found and where they are met with traditional hospitality, in 2000 the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution that proclaimed June 20th to be World Refugee Day.

Some time ago the UNs High Commissioner for Refugees said the following: Every day we can observe incredible courage and strength of refugees who have lost everything they had. For them, every day spent in exile or on the road, escaping from their home land, seems excessively long.

That is why on World Refugee Day we all should take a break and reflect. If refugees dont want to give up their dreams, what right do we have to do so?

The Nansen Prize for the protection of human rights

The awarding ceremony of the Nansen Prize, that takes place on this very day, is an important part of the annual celebration of World Refugee Day.

Formerly known as Nansen Medal, this prize, established nearly 50 years ago, was named in honor of the Norwegian Arctic scientist Fridtjof Nansen, whom the League of Nations (the predecessor of the UNO) appointed as the first High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921.

The Nansen Prize consists of a medal and prize money of $100,000. Every year the prize is awarded to an individual or a group of people for outstanding achievements in the welfare of refugees.

The last time the prize was awarded it was given to Ms. Gra?a Machel and to Maestro Luciano Pavarotti.

Let us celebrate this day together

World Refugee Day is a manifestation of respect for the resilient spirit and the courage of refugees all over the world, and therefore this day should become a real holiday. In the whole world this day should be both a holiday and a day to demonstrate respect for the refugees achievements.

These celebrations can take various forms, from performances of comedians and rock concerts to conferences and memorial services.

But be it a simple village festival or school event or such an remarkable event like the official UNO ceremony at the Statue of Liberty, in any case June 20th is a day for us to think about the fate of refugees and to express to them our approval, support and respect.

What is the UNs Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees?

In 1950 the UNs Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees was founded by a decision of the General Assembly. Originally, this new organisation was entrusted with the 3 year task of providing help in settling 1,2 million refugees in Europe who were left without a roof over their head as a consequence of World War II.

Unfortunately, the post-war peaceful life was soon disturbed when, in the beginning of the 1950s, armed conflicts broke out in several regions of the world, in particular Algeria and Hungary.

Regional wars continue to disturb the peaceful life of millions of people in the whole world today, for example the recent conflicts in Africa, in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. Thus the mandate of the UNs Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees is prolonged every five years.

In its 50 years of activity the UNs High Commissioner for Refugees has provided help for more than 50 million people, and was awarded with the Nobel Prize twice for this reason.

At the moment the UNs Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees is one of the main humanitarian organisations in the world. Many of its approx 5,000 employees are forced to work under extremely dangerous circumstances in the center of acts of war.

In countries on all five continents they provide help for about 22 million people forced to leave their homeland, and also for those who were displaced within their own country, who seek asylum, who return to their homeland or who do not have any citizenship.

The cornerstone of the offices work is to ensure respect for refugees and acknowledgement of their basic human rights, including the right to seek asylum, and also to guarantee that no individual is returned to his country against his will if he or she has reason to fear persecution.

With regard to these tasks, what is the final aim of the offices work? Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who worked as UN High Commissioner for Refugees the longest, answered like this: to put an end to our work.

In other words, to aspire that a time will come when the word refugee will be removed from all dictionaries because the violence that generates them will also have been extinguished.

What is a refugee?

Imagine the following: For all your life you have lived in peace, surrounded by family and friends. Suddenly and unexpectedly everything changes. Neighbors that have known you for all your life start hating you. Your home is destroyed.

Trying not to be shot or bombed, you are forced to leave your home, to run away without taking anything with you except your own life.

If you are lucky, you will end up in a foreign country, alone, in total fear, but in safety. You have become a refugee.

International law defines a refugee as a person who either cannot or does not want to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, citizenship, political views or their membership of a certain social group.

Yet in international law there is no description of the courage and feeling of hope that characterizes the majority of refugees, wherever they might be.

Eighty per cent of the worlds refugees are women and children. On World Refugee Day we particularly want to recognize the courage and willpower of millions of mothers and wives, who try to protect their families under the most difficult circumstances.

They are real heroines and deserve our respect.

If you want to celebrate World Refugee Day, start by visiting homepages that are devoted to refugees and their rights, or contact a national, regional or local organisation that offers help for refugees.

I emphatically recommend you to give your due to the extraordinary courage of the refugees and to the contribution that they have made and are still making.

STRENGTH

COURAGE

HOPE

RESPECT

[20.06.2005]

Source: hro.org

1993-2003
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