NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–18 June 2010 – The United Nations is marking World Refugee Day by urging governments and individuals not to forget the 15 million men, women and children who have been uprooted by conflict or persecution and are unable to return to their homes.
The theme for this year’s observance on 20 June is “Home,” and highlights the need to ensure that all refugees can have a place to call home, whether they return to their places of origin, settle in host countries or re-settle in a third country.
“Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to mark the Day, calling for working with host Governments to deliver services, and intensifying efforts to resolve conflicts so that refugees can return home.
A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted a decline in the number of refugees who are able to go home. In 2005, more than a million people returned to their own country on a voluntary basis.
Last year, only 250,000 did so – the lowest number in two decades. The reasons for this include prolonged instability in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan.
“Despite the decline in voluntary repatriation opportunities for refugees, UNHCR is working hard on solutions,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in his message.
Mr. Guterres is marking the Day in Syria, which, according to Government estimates, hosts over 1 million refugees, the majority from Iraq. It was announced today that 100,000 Iraqi refugees have been referred for resettlement from the Middle East to third countries since 2007, a major milestone for one of the world’s largest refugee populations.
He stressed the need to find solutions to help ensure that refugees have a place to call home, to do more to combat misunderstandings about refugees, and to provide education and other skills training so that even if they do not have homes they can still have a future.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is in Ecuador, where she is highlighting the challenges facing refugees.
“Having a home, a place where we belong, a place where we feel safe is something most of us take for granted,” she said on the occasion of World Refugee Day. “Yet those who flee from conflict and persecution no longer have their homes, and it will be years before they can even return. In fact, many may never go home again.”
There are around 51,000 registered Colombian refugees in Ecuador, but UNHCR estimates that about 135,000 people are in need of international protection. This makes Ecuador the country with the largest refugee population in Latin America.
Mr. Guterres and Ms. Jolie are taking part today, along with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a live video link – “WRD Live” – which will connect with Washington DC, Malaysia, Syria, northern Ecuador and DRC to talk to refugees about their experiences.
For the first time, the 79-year-old Empire State Building in New York will be lit blue on 20 June to honour the world’s refugees. Other global landmarks that will turn blue include the ancient Colosseum in Rome and – also for the first time – the bridge across the Ibar River in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.
World Refugee Day activities also include film screenings, photography exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports contests across countries in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas and Africa.