17 June 2004
Helping Refugees to Find Durable Solutions
United Nations Commemorates World Refugees Day on 20 June
VIENNA, 17 June (UN Information Service) -- A place called home - rebuilding lives in safety and dignity is this years theme for the World Refugee Day. More than 40 million refugees are currently searching for a permanent place to live. The needs of about 21 million refugees and others of concern are the focus of the work of the Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The organization aims at helping refugees to find durable solutions.
Over the past five decades, the office of the UNHCR has helped more than 50 million people uprooted by the turmoil of conflict to find a home and start their lives anew. But of the million people under the agencys protection today, the overwhelming majority desperately wants to go back to their own homes. Last year alone, an estimated 1.1 million refugees returned home, said Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations in a message to commemorate the day.
Although the most desirable solution for refugees is to be able to return to their home countries, this is not an option that is easily available. The factors that prompted people to flee may still be present, and can sometimes last for years or even decades. For instance, about four million people have fled from Afghanistan since 1979, and Palestinians have been leaving their home since 1948.
Refugees who still fear for their lives in their country of origin for racial, political or religious reasons, and the traumatized survivors of torture often have no option but to seek asylum in other countries, and eventually, settle there. Resettlement is recognized as a legitimate tool of international protection. However, in recent years, an alarming trend has emerged, where nations that once welcomed refugees have closed their doors, leaving the poor countries to assume an ever-greater burden. But experience shows that surprisingly often, resettlement can be a winning proposition for both sides, because refugees enrich their host societies and are eager to support themselves.
In 2004, the main countries that offered resettlement, i.e. the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, New Zealand and Denmark, were joined by Brazil, Chile, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ireland, Iceland, United Kingdom and Spain. Though refugees are decreasingly applying for asylum in industrial states, the overall figures are not decreasing. According to UNHCR, in Austria, for instance, the numbers of asylum seekers are declining amid rising prejudices against them. UNHCR has launched a poster campaign in Austria on the occasion of World Refugee Day to address the fears of the Austrian public.
The United Nations decided to commemorate World Refugee Day following a decision by the General Assembly on the 50th anniversary on 20 June 2001, of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which is the founding instrument and cornerstone of international refugee protection. This day is an opportunity to reaffirm the Conventions basic principles, including the prohibition against expelling or returning refugees to territories where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
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