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UNHCR joins Facebook virtual charity gifts initiative

News Stories, 7 April 2009

© UNHCR/S.Schulman
A young Afghan stands in the entrance of a UNHCR-supplied tent. Facebook users can help buy such tents for refugees.

GENEVA, April 7 (UNHCR) UNHCR on Tuesday joined a virtual charity initiative by the popular social networking site Facebook that will help raise money to provide shelter for uprooted people in places like Afghanistan, Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Facebook continues to grow in popularity and has just reached the milestone of 200 million active users. To celebrate, Facebook is carrying a feature under which users can help any of 16 non-profit organizations, including UNHCR, by purchasing virtual "charity gifts."

Those opting to help UNHCR and its "Gimme Shelter" campaign can buy a virtual UNHCR tent for US$10, or a "Gimme Shelter" gift token for US$5. UNHCR Senior External Relations Officer Claudia Gisiger-Gonzalez explained that people's purchases would translate into real shelter aid for refugees and internally displaced people.

"For example, if 20 friends buy a virtual tent, they will raise enough funds for a refugee family to live in a real tent giving them dignity and security," she said, adding: "That's the power of online social networking."

She said the Facebook initiative would help the flagship "Gimme Shelter" campaign, which is centred on a short film directed by American actor Ben Affleck and filmed by John Toll, both Academy Award winners.

Shot in DRC's troubled North Kivu province, the film captures the suffering as well as the hope of Congolese civilians displaced by conflict. The campaign, which features the classic Rolling Stones song, "Gimme Shelter," is being expanded to help other uprooted people in places like Afghanistan and Chad.

Kathleen Loughlin, a spokeswoman for Facebook, said the site was an invaluable tool for raising awareness about uprooted people. "Facebook now has more than 200 million active users. While an important milestone for the company, we believe 200 million people, as an interconnected whole, have a greater opportunity to initiate and affect positive change," she added.

By Hannah Freya Anderson in Geneva




The World's Stateless: A photo essay by Greg Constantine

Nationality might seem like a universal birthright, but it is estimated that up to 12 million people around the world are struggling to get along without it. They do not possess a nationality nor enjoy its legal benefits. They fall into a legal limbo; they are stateless. This often leaves them unable to do the basic things most people take for granted such as registering the birth of a child, travelling, going to school, opening a bank account or owning property.

Statelessness has a variety of causes. Some populations were excluded from citizenship at the time of independence from colonial rule. Others fall victim to mass denationalization. In some countries, women cannot confer nationality on their children. Sometimes, because of discrimination, legislation fails to guarantee citizenship for certain ethnic groups.

The problem is global. Under its statelessness mandate, UNHCR is advising stateless people on their rights and assisting them in acquiring citizenship. At the government level, it is supporting legal reform to prevent people from becoming stateless. With partners it undertakes citizenship campaigns to help stateless people to acquire nationality and documentation.

Photographer Greg Constantine is an award-winning photojournalist from the United States. In 2005, he moved to Asia and began work on his project, "Nowhere People," which documents the plight of stateless people around the world. His work has received a number of awards, including from Pictures of the Year International, NPPA Best of Photojournalism, the Amnesty International Human Rights Press Awards (Hong Kong), the Society of Publishers in Asia, and the Harry Chapin Media Award for Photojournalism. Greg was a co-winner of the Osborn Elliot Prize for Journalism in Asia, presented annually by the Asia Society. Work from "Nowhere People" has been widely published and exhibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Switzerland, Ukraine, Hong Kong and Kenya. He is based in Southeast Asia.

The World's Stateless: A photo essay by Greg Constantine