In the past 18 months, the UNHCR has faced one of the busiest periods of its history, with crisis after crisis keeping the agency at full stretch, but over the next week staff across the globe will take time to commemorate World Refugee Day and the millions they help.
The focus for UNHCR this year will be in Brazil, where High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will be spending World Refugee Day (June 20) in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. He will be attending and addressing Rio+20 after visiting refugees in Ecuador.
Two days before World Refugee Day (WRD), UNHCR will be releasing worldwide its eagerly awaited Global Trends 2011 report, which updates the number of people of concern to the organization, including refugees, asylum-seekers, the stateless and internally displaced people.
UNHCR will start marking World Refugee Day by rolling out a striking new campaign, “Dilemmas,” which is a development of the award-winning “1″ campaign launched last year. “Dilemmas” depicts some of the tough choices facing refugees, helping the public to empathize with, and understand, their dilemma.
The new campaign is being supported in special TV spots by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and other celebrities, including UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors Barbara Hendricks, Julien Clerc and Osvaldo Laport as well as Chinese actress Yao Chen, author Khaled Hosseini, Colombian rock star Juanes and Italian actress Fiorella Mannoia. UNHCR has also developed a free smartphone app, a role playing game called “My Life as a Refugee,” to support the campaign on various digital platforms around the world.
Meanwhile, as has become custom, Rome’s Colosseum will once again be illuminated in UN blue, one of many monuments around the world to be spotlit to mark the occasion, including Sweden’s national indoor arena, the Ericsson Globe, which is the world’s largest hemispherical building, and the Pristina National Library in Kosovo.
UNHCR staff have been planning for months for WRD and have prepared a wide range of activities, including light shows, film screenings, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, cultural performances, concerts and sports contests. There will also be competitions, tree planting, speeches, panel discussions, poetry recitals and photography exhibitions. UNHCR once again has an ambitious social media campaign to promote the day and spread awareness about the “Dilemmas” campaign.
The agency’s partners, including governments, donors and non-governmental organizations, also be doing their part to help, and refugees around the world will participate while enjoying much needed recognition.
The United Kingdom will again be marking a Refugee Week, with hundreds of events planned around the country. Highlights include a “Celebrating Sanctuary” festival starting June 17 on London’s South Bank and the screening on June 22 of the film classic, “Casablanca,” in the capital’s iconic Victoria & Albert Museum, with free entrance and black & white dress code.
The museum’s tea room will be recreated as Rick’s Café, where British-born Palestinian jazz singer Reem Kelani will perform songs and work by Sayyid Darwish. A more modest RefuTea will be held in the town of Ipswich on June 19, with free drinks and cakes. UNHCR will also be running a poster campaign on the London Underground system highlighting the contributions of refugees towards the Olympic Games, which begin in the city on July 27.
In Ireland, more than 130 libraries across the country as well as branches of Hughes and Hughes Booksellers in and around Dublin will have displays of refugee-related books for adults and children around World Refugee Day. UNHCR bookmarks with recommended reads will be handed out.
In France, UNHCR is again sponsoring a World Refugee Day essay competition run by “Le Monde” for journalism students. The winning article, which must be on the subject of refugees, will run in the daily’s June 20 edition. Le Monde’s sister publication, the monthly “Le Monde diplomatique,” has published a four-page supplement on UNHCR in its June edition.
In the Belgian capital, Brussels, UNHCR will organize an explosive event on June 19 in the city’s Place du Luxembourg. Using projectors and soundscape, actors and stunt experts will stage an attack on the historic old entrance to the Brussels-Luxemburg railway station, which will appear to crumble as people flee. The aim is to spread awareness about the “Dilemmas” campaign and to show the burghers of Brussels the kind of situations refugees face.
Time for a Party: Staff dance in UNHCR headquarters on World Refugee Day.
On the Iberian Peninsula, World Refugee Day will be taken right into the Portuguese Parliament, with legislators helping to salute refugees at a national level. There will be testimonies from refugees, a photo exhibition and a concert, with free entry to the June 20 event. The parliament building will be decorated with materials from “Dilemmas” and other UNHCR campaigns.
A wide range of activities are planned for Hungary, including a festival of films on migration and refugees on June 19-20 in Budapest. Also on June 20, refugees in Budapest and Debrecen will hand out 10,000 copies of a free magazine on refugee issues, which was written by local journalists and funded by the European Union.
In neighbouring Bulgaria, on Sunday, a multicultural event with a concert and activities for children will take place in front of the National Theatre in Sofia. UNHCR will have a stall alongside tents showcasing culture and cuisine from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, and organizations that support refugees in Bulgaria.
In Slovakia, on June 20, refugees staying at the Emergency Transit Centre in Hummene (while they await resettlement) will join asylum-seekers and others of concern on a sightseeing tour of the historical city of Košice. This will be followed by a football tournament and a cultural event.
UNHCR’s World Refugee Day activities in the Antipodes include an art contest for children in Australia and New Zealand on the theme of “1 refugee without hope is too many.” The art will be exhibited at a breakfast on June 20 in Canberra, where guests will include refugees and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Winning entries will be featured in a 2013 calendar by UNHCR.
And in Sydney, Australia for UNHCR will be hosting the annual WRD breakfast on June 20. Funds raised will support community projects in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
UNHCR’s office in Papua New Guinea will hold its main event on the weekend before WRD, which will include an arts and crafts market, with proceeds going to support refugee causes. Popular local artist Jeffry Feeger will complete a life painting for auction, bamboo flute player Pius Wasi will make a special recording with PNG and West Papuan musicians while West Papuan refugee troupes, Rainbow and Hohola, will perform traditional dances.
Meanwhile, on June 20, UNHCR will launch an advertising campaign featuring photos of Malaysian celebrities calling on the public to help refugees by donating money, volunteering their time or speaking to others. The featured celebrities are Miss Universe Malaysia Deborah Henry, TV hosts Daphne Iking and Aishah Sinclair and recording artists Reshmonu and Reza Salleh.
On June 24, UNHCR will host more than 500 refugees at an event in Kuala Lumpur themed, “Loud and Proud.” The guests will fete the accomplishments of refugees in helping their communities survive in Malaysia.
In Afghanistan, the national post office will issue a stamp marking the 10th anniversary of UNHCR’s voluntary repatríation programme, which has seen more than 4.6 million people return home with the agency’s help.
The UNHCR office in the Lebanon will be organizing sports and film events to mark WRD this year. Running from June 25-29 at Beirut’s Cinema Sofil, the film festival will include features and documentaries from around the world on refugee-related issues. A children-oriented World Refugee Day Olympics will be held on June 24 at the Antoniye School in Baabda, western Lebanon. The country’s most popular restaurant chain, Roadster Diner, will feature images from UNHCR’s “Dilemmas” campaign on its food trays.
In an event co-organized by UNHCR, The Soweto Gospel Choir will perform for free on World Refugee Day at the Orlando East Community Hall in the Johannesburg district from which the Grammy Award winners take their name. Several other WRD events in South Africa will promote tolerance of refugees in the country. Art exhibits, featuring work by refugees, will be held at the Holocaust Museum in Cape Town and the Alliance Française in Durban.
UNHCR will again be helping organize the annual 10-kilometre walk in Kinshasa.
The UN refugee agency and the Walkers Club of Kinshasa will stage an annual 10-kilometre walk through the hot streets of the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo this Sunday. About 700 people are expected to turn up for an event that attracts refugees, UNHCR staff, diplomats, government officials, aid workers and more.
In North Africa, the UNHCR office in Tunisia and the Ministry of Women will on June 17 co-organize a day of recreational events for refugee children and their families in central Tunis. Three days later, UNHCR will both celebrate World Refugee Day and inaugurate its new Tunis office. In the Choucha camp in southern Tunisia, a special meal will be offered to the refugees on World Refugee Day and ice-cream vans will be parked around the camp, handing out 3,000 free ice creams in cones. On June 24, Palestinian singer Reem al Banna, who is known for her modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian songs and poetry, will perform at Choucha.
As always, UNHCR will be busy with WRD events in the United States capital, Washington, DC, starting with the launch on June 18 at The Kennedy Centre of a multimedia art exhibit about Dadaab in Kenya. “Dadaab Stories” charts daily life for almost 500,000 Somalis in the world’s largest refugee complex. Bringing together video, photography, poetry and music, “Dadaab Stories” is a living, curated collection of personal stories.
On World Refugee Day itself, acclaimed Afghan-born author, Khaled Hosseini, will introduce “No Place Called Home,” written and performed by Kim Schultz. The play tells the story of an American woman who accidentally falls in love with an Iraqi man while interviewing refugees. Hosseini, a UNHCR supporter and former refugee, will also speak at a naturalization ceremony for 20 refugees next Thursday at the US State Department.
UNHCR will also be promoting WRD in New York, holding an evening event at the UN Secretariat Building overlooking the East River. This gathering will also launch a photo and text exhibit on the recently published, “The State of the World’s Refugees,” a flagship UNHCR publication.
In Costa Rica, UNHCR and youth organization Chepecletas will organize a night tour – or “nocturbano” – on June 20 in San José, highlighting the reality refugees face. As part of this experience, the Youth Network without Borders, including refugees, will stage a drama on violence, flight and integration. The tour will end with a performance by a Colombian refugee band.
In the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, UNHCR will stage a concert by acclaimed local flautist, Huascar Barradas, at the Fundación Corp Banca.
Aside from hosting a visit by the High Commissioner, Latin America’s largest refugee host nation, Ecuador, will be showing its empathy and support for the displaced in some imaginative ways. Thousands of citizens are being encouraged to get on their bikes at Quito’s Carolina Park to show their support “for an Ecuador that is socially committed, inclusive and non-discriminatory.” There will also be a food, music and handicrafts fair and Guterres will join the fun.