19 June 2001


NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Refugee Day, 20 June:

Today is the very first World Refugee Day. Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, it is our opportunity to recognize the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees, past and present, who have persevered despite losing everything but hope.

Refugees are the great survivors of our time. Many overcome immense hardship during years of exile, finally returning to their devastated countries to rebuild shattered communities. Others can never go home, and must forge new lives in strange lands. All of them deserve our encouragement, support and respect.

Sadly, in an era of unprecedented prosperity for some, refugees are finding that the welcome mat has worn thin. Nations that once opened their arms to refugees now lock their doors, while poor countries that can least afford it assume an ever greater burden. That should not be. Refugees not only have the strongest moral claim to our assistance; experience shows that economically and culturally, they generate more wealth than they consume. Many refugees are people of outstanding creativity, who either bring a great reputation with them, or go on to win one in their adopted country. Almost all bring valuable skills and are eager to support themselves and their families by hard work.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is the cornerstone of refugee protection. World Refugee Day gives us an opportunity to reaffirm the Convention's basic principles, including the prohibition against expelling or returning any refugee to territories where his or her life or freedom would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. Adherence to this commitment has saved countless lives.

The Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for its part, is responsible for more than 20 million refugees and others of concern around the world. Each refugee has a dramatic story to tell. And, given the chance, each can make a positive contribution to society. Today is their day, but it is also our chance to help them build a better tomorrow.

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