Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has marked World Refugee Day today with a call for greater international solidarity to protect victims of forced displacement across the globe.
“I urgently call on the international community to redouble efforts to address both the causes and consequences of forced human displacement,” Mr. Ban said, noting that the worldwide number of refugees had grown to more than 16 million in the past year.
The Secretary-General stressed that, since the adoption of the UN Refugee Convention in 1951, human displacement has become a far more complex issue.
“Conflict and poverty, the most common reasons people are compelled to leave their homes, are now amplified by the effects of climate change, increasing scarcity of resources and food shortages – factors which may lead to greater insecurity in the future,” he stressed.
Mr. Ban also noted that the responsibility of providing asylum for refugees currently falls “disproportionately” on developing nations.
“Contrary to public perceptions in many industrialized nations, developing countries actually bear the burden of hosting a larger number of refugees, despite their limited resources,” he said.
He added that the goal of the international community should be to ensure that refugees would be free one day to return home in safety and dignity.
Meanwhile the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said in a statement that “Refugees show incredible courage and perseverance in overcoming enormous odds to rebuild their lives. Ensuring that they get the protection they deserve is a noble cause because refugee rights are human rights – and rights that belong to us all.”
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors actress Angelina Jolie and opera singer Barbara Hendricks also made statements to mark World Refugee Day, as did Pope Benedict XVI.
“Refugees are people forced to flee from their countries as a result of true life-threatening dangers. From the heart I hope that these – our brothers and sisters so tried by suffering – are guaranteed asylum and the recognition of their rights,” he said.
In a related development, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement today that a new kind of casualty was being created by climate change: the environmental refugee.
“Rising sea levels, increasing desertification, weather-induced flooding, and more frequent natural disasters have, and will increasingly become, a major cause of population displacement in several parts of the world,” the statement said.
Citing a report from the UN University, UNEP said that there were now more than 19 million people officially recognized as “persons of concern” – people who are likely to be displaced because of environmental disasters. UNEP said that figure is expected to grow to about 50 million by the end of 2010.