World Refugee Day: Challenges of the 21st Century

News Stories, 20 June 2007

© UNHCR/J.Redden
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie sits beside an Afghan boy in the refugee camp of Katcha Ghari on the edge of the Pakistan city of Peshawar.

GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR) Today is World Refugee Day, a day when the UN refugee agency tries to focus worldwide attention on the plight of millions of refugees and displaced people around the world. To mark the day, High Commissioner António Guterres is visiting South Sudan to witness the rapid changes in the nature of the refugee challenge in Africa.

Some 40 million people worldwide are uprooted by violence and persecution, and it is likely that the future will see more people on the move as a growing number of push factors build upon each other to create conditions for further forced displacement.

People are forced to seek refuge for increasingly interlinked reasons. They do not just flee persecution and war, but also injustice, exclusion, environmental pressures, competition for scarce resources and the miseries caused by dysfunctional states.

The task facing the international community is to understand this new environment and to find ways to unlock the potential of refugees who have much to offer if they are given the opportunity to regain control over their lives.

"Our greatest satisfaction comes from helping a refugee family to go home. Their repatriation is a ray of hope in a strife-torn region. Working together with our partners and with the support of our donors we have made a difference. But we need to do more to help refugees once again become active players in society," said António Guterres, who travelled with Sudanese refugees as they returned home from Uganda after years in exile.

Results on the ground show UNHCR is making progress. Last year, UNHCR helped hundreds of thousands of refugees return home. In Africa, in addition to stepped-up repatriation to South Sudan, bright spots include winding up of UNHCR's operations in Liberia and Angola.

Working in partnership is key. UNHCR's Council of Business Leaders, for example, is providing solutions to equip refugees with the tools and skills they will need for their future. One example of partnership in action is ninemillion.org, an online advocacy tool and fund-raising campaign aimed at providing refugee children with access to education and sports programmes.

Another is a programme supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is building skills and capacity among the returning population in South Sudan.

"We cannot do this alone. But with your support UNHCR can begin to turn the tide, giving refugees hope for the future and new opportunities for their families and their communities," said Guterres.

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Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Afghanistan: An Uncertain Future

For over a quarter of a century, Afghanistan has been devastated by conflict and civil strife, with some 8 million people uprooted internally and in neighbouring countries. The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 resulted in one of the largest and most successful return operations in history.

Seven years on, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have returned - increasing Afghanistan's population by an estimated 20 percent.The large majority have gone back to their areas of origin. However, some recent returnees are facing more difficulties as the country's absorption capacity reaches its limits in some areas. Last year, some Afghans returned before they were ready or able to successfully reintegrate due to the closure of refugee villages as well as the deteriorating conditions in Pakistan. In consequence, 30,000 Afghan refugees returned to further displacement in their homeland, unable to return to their villages due to conflict, lack of land, shelter materials, basic services and job opportunities. These challenges have been compounded elsewhere across the country by food insecurity and severe drought.

UNHCR and the Afghan Foreign Ministry highlighted the requirements for sustainable refugee return and reintegration at an international conference in Kabul in November 2008. The donor community welcomed the inclusion of refugee reintegration within the government's five-year national development strategy and the emphasis on land, shelter, water, sanitation, education, health care and livelihoods. It is anticipated that repatriation and reintegration will become more challenging in future.

Afghanistan: An Uncertain Future

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