London, United Kingdom — Countries in the Asia-Pacific region led the way on Wednesday as millions of people marked World Refugee Day (WRD) with a wide array of events and programmes.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone for the day in a special message, noting that more than a million individuals had been displaced over the past 18 months due to a wave of conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. “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,” he said.
“World Refugee Day is a moment to remember all those affected, and a time to intensify our support,” he stressed, while adding: “Despite budget constraints everywhere, we must not turn away from those in need. Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help.”
The head of the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, will mark the day in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, where he is scheduled to take part in a debate at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, on the vulnerability of migrants, refugees and internally displaced people in cities.
This year, UNHCR and its partners, including governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, goodwill ambassadors and refugees themselves, are taking part in awareness-raising, cultural, educational, environmental and sport activities. Some held their main events earlier this week.
At the heart of many UNHCR activities, events and special messages from UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and other celebrity supporters and goodwill ambassadors, is the refugee agency’s “Dilemmas” campaign. This builds on last year’s award-winning “1” campaign and depicts some of the tough choices facing refugees, helping the public to understand their dilemma.
As in past years, landmarks around the world are being illuminated in UN blue, including the Colosseum in Rome, the Empire State Building in New York, the CN Tower in Toronto, and the world’s largest hemispherical building, the Ericsson Globe, or Globen, in Stockholm.
The day’s commemorations started in the east, after the first rays of the June 20 sun woke the people of the Asia-Pacific region. UNHCR’s office in Australia organized a special breakfast at the Canberra Multicultural Centre, where prizes and certificates were handed out to the winners of an art competition aimed at encouraging students in Australia and New Zealand to discuss and consider the challenges faced by refugees. More than 250 entries were received and put on display in the centre. The breakfast also commemorated the resilience of refugees, and several former refugees spoke of their journeys to Australia and the support they have received.
The Japanese capital of Tokyo hosted several WRD events on Wednesday, including a symposium on resettlement. Japan became Asia’s first resettlement country three years ago. In the popular Harajuku district, students took part in a fashion show aimed at raising awareness about refugees. They wore blue-coloured costumes that are worn in refugee-producing and hosting countries.
Popular Chinese actress and UNHCR supporter, Yao Chen, opened a WRD photographic exhibition in Hong Kong’s busy Central district featuring the lives of refugees in Africa. The exhibition, sponsored by the HK Urban Renewal Authority, will run until July 2. Meanwhile, the 5th Refugee Film Festival got under way in the Broadway Cinematheque on Hong Kong Island, with Chen also on hand as guest of honour.
At a special WRD public lecture in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Indian parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, a former senior UN official who started his career with UNHCR, spoke passionately on “Preserving Asylum in India: Achievements and Challenges.”
World Refugee Day was marked in neighbouring Pakistan with a series of events across the country. In Islamabad, Imran Zeb, a top official of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions spoke of the new regional “Solutions Strategy” for Afghan Refugees, which was endorsed by the international community at a conference in Geneva last month.