Marking World Refugee Day, UN spotlights plight of millions forced to flee their homes


The United Nations today marked World Refugee Day by focusing on the more than 42 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and raising awareness of the dilemmas facing this vulnerable group of people.

“Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to mark the Day, observed annually on 20 June.

Earlier this week, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its Global Trends 2011 report, which updates the number of people of concern to the agency, including refugees, asylum-seekers, the stateless and internally displaced people.

It showed that a record 800,000 people were forced to flee across borders last year, more than at any time since 2000. The new refugees are part of a total of 4.3 million people who were newly displaced last year, owing to a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.

“These numbers represent far more than statistics; they are individuals and families whose lives have been upended, whose communities have been destroyed, and whose future remains uncertain,” said Mr. Ban.

The UN chief stressed the need to work together to mobilize the political will and leadership to prevent and end the conflicts that trigger refugee flows. And where security is restored, it is vital to address the underlying causes of conflict, allowing sustainable refugee return through access to livelihoods, services and the rule of law, he added.

The focus for UNHCR this year will be in Brazil, where the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, will be spending World Refugee Day in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Mr. Guterres arrived in Rio de Janeiro following a weekend visit to Ecuador, where he pledged to continue working to ensure the rights of the largest refugee population in South America. He met urban refugees from Colombia and discussed the challenges they face, including problems with documentation, during his visit to the port of Guayaquil and to the capital, Quito.

UNHCR is also marking the Day by rolling out a new campaign, called ‘Dilemmas,’ which depicts some of the tough choices facing refugees, helping the public to empathize with, and understand, their dilemma.

It is being supported in special television spots by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and other celebrities, including some of the agency’s many Goodwill Ambassadors.

“Unfortunately, the world is producing displaced people faster than it is producing solutions to displacement. And the solutions are not exclusively humanitarian – they are also political,” Ms. Jolie said in a message to mark the Day.

She added, “The international community should rededicate itself to preventing conflict, addressing it when it erupts, and solving it more quickly, for that is the only way to create durable solutions for the refugees whose strength inspires us on this World Refugee Day.”

UNHCR has also developed a free smart-phone application, a role playing game called ‘My Life as a Refugee,’ to support the campaign on various digital platforms around the world.