The United Nations today observed World Refugee Day, focusing attention on the contributions and needs of women, who make up the majority of those forced to flee, and urging States to protect them.
In his message on the occasion, which is marked each year on 20 June, Secretary-General Kofi Annan paid tribute to the perseverance of refugee women. "They show tremendous determination in holding their families together," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Annan voiced concern over a growing trend among countries that are closing their borders to outsiders. "On World Refugee Day, let us remember that, like those of us fortunate enough to have a home, refugees and asylum-seekers have families and feelings - but they often have little else," he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, also hailed the "courage and determination" of refugee women. "We must ensure that their voice is heard, that their potential is developed, and that their role is fully recognized," he said.
The High Commissioner outlined key priorities towards achieving this goal, including involving female refugees in community leadership, registering all refugee women so as to enhance their security and protection, improving strategies to prevent gender-based violence, and providing sanitary materials for all women and girls.
"We have made significant progress in all of these areas, but much more needs to be done as we continue our global efforts to help refugees realize their full potential in building a future for themselves and their children," he said.
Activities marking the day were planned in countries across the world, including a festival of folk songs and dances staged by UNHCR staff in the Albanian capital of Tirana in cooperation with the Theatre of Opera and Ballet. In Zambia, at the Kala Camp in Kawambwa, Congolese refugees were slated to hold sports competitions and sell handmade items. Similar activities, including photo exhibits, radio and television interviews, tree-planting ceremonies and concerts, were being organized by staff in 114 countries where UNHCR has offices.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie participated in an event at Union Station with other celebrities and dignitaries, including United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.
According to UNHCR, eBay is holding an online auction of memorabilia offered and signed by celebrities from around the world, including Ms. Jolie, Meryl Streep, Naomi Campbell and Michael Schumacher. Proceeds from the sale of these items will go to refugees.
In another development today, Captain Arne F. Rinnan, the crew of the M/V Tampa and Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA received the 2002 Nansen Refugee Award from UNHCR. "Despite the risk of substantial delays and a large financial loss, the ship - unequipped to carry a large number of passengers - altered its course to rescue 438 boat people in the Indian Ocean," the Secretary-General said in a message to the award ceremony delivered on his behalf by Mr. Lubbers.