18 June 2002
Refugee Situation Has Taken "Alarming Turn" for Worse in Some Countries, Secretary-General Warns
NEW YORK, 17 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mark World Refugee Day, 20 June:
On this second World Refugee Day, we look back on a year that gave many refugees a new lease on life. In Afghanistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has helped a million refugees return home. In East Timor, more than 200,000 refugees returned home in time to celebrate their country's independence and to vote in its first presidential election. Refugees from Sierra Leone and Angola also have new reason to hope that their long years of exile may soon be over.
But in some parts of the world, the situation of refugees has taken an alarming turn for the worse. An increasing number of countries appear determined to close their borders to refugees, breaking with half a century of accumulated international norms and practices. In several countries in the industrialized world, asylum-seekers are being stigmatized as potential criminals.
Those who have fled violence and persecution deserve protection and assistance, not suspicion and contempt. Let us not forget that the great majority of the world's refugees and asylum-seekers are women and children. That is why the focus of this year's World Refugee Day is on refugee women. These women face tremendous challenges. Yet they show enormous courage and determination in holding their families together. Today is a day to pay tribute to their vital role and contributions.
On this World Refugee Day, let us remember that, like those of us fortunate enough to have a home, refugees and asylum-seekers have families and feelings -- but they often have little else. And let us remind ourselves that one day, any one of us could be knocking at someone else's door, asking for help.
* *** *