Press Releases

17 June 2005

It Takes Courage to Be a Refugee United Nations Commemorates World Refugee Day on 20 June

VIENNA, 17 June (UN Information Service) – “Courage” is the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day, which is observed annually by the United Nations on 20 June, saluting the indomitable spirit and courage of the world’s refugees, giving them the encouragement, support and respect they deserve. This year’s theme pays tribute to the courage of refugees to overcome extraordinary circumstances and to rise above these challenges to rebuild their lives and contribute to society again.

“On this World Refugee Day, all of us can draw inspiration from the courage and perseverance in overcoming adversity and building a better future, as demonstrated by millions of refugees. Many endure enormous suffering without losing hope, and find the strength to overcome despair and start a new life against seemingly overwhelming odds. We can see their courage every day in the sprawling refugee camps of Asia and Africa, where entire families attend classes to learn new skills while they anxiously await the day they can finally go home and begin rebuilding their lives and countries”, said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message to appeal for worldwide solidarity.

Over the past five and a half decades, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has helped more than 50 million uprooted people worldwide. Today, in 115 countries, and some of the most difficult conditions on earth, 6,000 UNHCR staff are seeking durable solutions for more than 17 million refugees and other persons of concern. In each case, UNHCR pursues one of three possible lasting solutions: repatriation – voluntarily returning home once the necessary conditions are in place; local integration in the country of first asylum; or as a last option, resettlement in a third country. “While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives”, said António Guterres, the newly-appointed UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

However, finding safety in today’s world is becoming more and more difficult. While developing countries host most of the world’s refugees, many industrialized nations continue to close their doors to people seeking asylum. In Austria, for instance, UNHCR is concerned that, although the number of asylum applications has been declining for several years, a tighter asylum law package is currently being discussed in Parliament. The main concerns of UNHCR are a provision foreseeing pre-removal detention for all asylum seekers who could theoretically fall under the responsibility of another “Dublin State” (EU countries, Iceland and Norway), as well as a lack of data protection. The draft legislation could allow personal data of asylum seekers to be passed on to the authorities of the state where the asylum seeker is potentially persecuted. UNHCR is urging members of Parliament to modify these two provisions and to bring them in line with international standards.

World Refugee Day will be observed in a variety of ways all over the world. In Austria, UNHCR will hold a poetry reading titled “It takes Courage to be a Refugee” by authors who have been refugees themselves. Hungary is marking the day with the launch of a one-month billboard campaign in Budapest in partnership with Menekék Association for Migrants. In addition, World Refugee Day spots will be broadcast on Hungarian state TV Duna Television and RTL Club TV. In Slovakia, a boat trip on the Danube river from Bratislava to the Gabcikovo refugee site is being organized today for refugees, asylum seekers, politicians, media, non-governmental organizations and artists. On the same day in the City Cultural Centre of Gabcikovo, a concert with the theme “Artists for Refugees” will take place, complemented by exhibitions of refugee paintings and photos. In partnership with university students and NGOs, radio broadcasts and TV spots on refugee issues will be transmitted. On 26 June, a meeting of municipality representatives and local residents with refugees will take place, as well as an exhibition of refugee drawings on the town’s square of the Slovak refugee site Brezova pod Bradlom.

The United Nations commemorates World Refugee Day following a decision by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 June 2001, the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Refugee Convention, which is the founding instrument and cornerstone of international refugee protection. World Refugee Day is an opportunity to reaffirm the Convention’s basic principles, including the prohibition of refusing asylum to people whose lives or freedom are threatened because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of particular social groups in their countries of origin.

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