Across the world millions marked World Refugee Day on Saturday with joyful and celebratory events in sharp contrast to gloomy statistics showing spiralling global conflict and persecution have led to record numbers of people fleeing their homes.
From Africa through Asia to the Americas, UNHCR and its partners celebrated lives that, once in danger of being lost, had been transformed and given fresh hope. Tales born from misery and suffering ended with inspiring notes of achievement, success and hope.
In Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, Hollywood actor Ger Duany was reunited with his mother, who still lives in the camp. Duany, who fled fighting in what was then southern Sudan, was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in one of many ceremonies taking place in the camp, the second largest in Kenya and home to about 184,000 refugees.
The other nationalities in the camp read like a roll call of regional conflicts – Somalia, Darfur, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Eritrea. Last year, due to some 15 new or reignited conflicts, fewer refugees than in previous recent years, 128,000, were able to return home.
Duany is the star of The Good Lie which tells the story of a group of “lost boys” – and one girl – who are orphaned and displaced by civil war in Sudan and eventually find their way to America. It mirrors his own life.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie spent the day meeting refugees from Syria in refugee camps in Turkey. In the last year, Turkey has taken over from Pakistan as the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world, largely as a result of conflict in Iraq and Syria, where the war has entered its 5th year.
Speaking after visiting Midyat, one of a network of 24 refugee camps across the country where 260,000 people now live, the Oscar-winning actress called for renewed international efforts to settle the conflict in Syria and those elsewhere.
“This World Refugee Day marks some frightening truths about our inability to manage international crisis – about our inability to broker peace and find lasting solutions … There is an explosion of human suffering and displacement on a level that has never been seen before, and it cannot be manage by aid relief, it must be managed by diplomacy and law,” she told a press conference.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, published on June 18, detailed that the increase in forcibly displaced in 2014 was the largest leap ever seen in a single year and said the situation was likely to worsen still further.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.
Given the statistics, the White House described World Refugee Day (WRD) as a solemn occasion.
“The struggles of some are captured in searing images-of people waiting at border crossings, housed in endless lines of tents, and crammed into rickety boats at sea-while those of others, crowded into the shadows of large cities, may go unobserved,” it noted in an official statement.
Still in the Americas, UNHCR ran a campaign highlighting the needs of children – who now make up half the number of the world’s refugees. Called “The tour around the world in a backpack”, its aim is to generate empathy and solidarity among the various worlds of the children. It will visit 10 Latin American countries and culminate in Washington DC.
The backpack was chosen as is a common object among the children. They use it to go to school, to do sport but also to escape from one country to another country because of war and persecution.
In Asia, various activities marked WRD from Rohingya refugees in Myanmar playing soccer to UNHCR trained barbers giving free haircuts.