Good evening everyone.
Thank you for organizing this special event on the occasion of the World Refugee Day. A day dedicated to the courage and resilience of millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide.
The numbers are overwhelming: Nearly 80 million women, children, and men around the world have been forced from their homes as refugees or internally displaced people. Even more shocking: ten million of these people fled in the past year alone.
Today, 1 per cent of the humanity is displaced.
Behind these shocking numbers, there are people whose lives have been torn apart, leaving their homes, family, jobs and schools behind; for reasons beyond their control
In 2020, we mark World Refugee Day against a backdrop of dramatic social change. Not only have record numbers of people fled their homes to find safety – but the entire world is struggling with the devastation of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This global health crisis is evolving into an economic crisis, and in turn, has exposed raw social inequalities in our societies.
Racial discrimination and related intolerance are common causes of flight, which unfortunately do not end after flight; but can threaten the protection of asylum-seekers and refugees at all stages of the displacement cycles. More needs to be done in the fight against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.
These are challenging times. Yet, we have seen how the pandemic and the protests have created a connectedness that transcends borders. We have seen how ordinary people have become heroes by stepping up to make a difference. And refugees are contributing on the frontlines of the pandemic, despite living in extremely vulnerable conditions.
From camps in Bangladesh to hospitals in Europe, refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and in other essential roles, protecting themselves and giving back to the communities that host them.
In Cyprus, refugees have been working together with humanitarian workers in helping the needy of any nationality or religion; informing their communities on how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19; sewing masks to donate to needy groups of the population,
In the time of COVID- 19, we have witnessed how everyone can make a difference and how every action counts.
In many refugee hosting countries, the pandemic presented a crisis on top of a crisis, where conflict and persecution continued to uproot families who, at the very same time, needed to isolate. This has been a devastating task for countries that are already struggling to care for their own citizens. Almost overnight, ensuring hygiene, and building adequate shelter and isolation space became essential.
Over the years UNHCR has often found itself on the frontlines of emergencies, yet the challenges we face today are of an entirely different magnitude.
Our priority is to stay and deliver for the refugees, internally displaced and stateless people we are mandated to protect.
This World Refugee Day, UNHCR is appealing to everyone to continue this global movement of solidarity and action we witnessed last December at the Global Refugee Forum; so that refugees and host communities receive the support they need.
We will now have the pleasure to experience the music and cultural performances by asylum-seekers living amongst us. They’re poets and musicians who fled their countries seeking asylum from war and persecution; leaving everything behind, but their dreams and hopes. Tonight, they’re hoping to make their voices heard; and remind us that behind refugee numbers, there are individuals with talents and skills. Individuals- who if given the chance they can contribute and give back to their hosting communities, economically and culturally.
Let’s listen to them with open hearts and open minds.
Let’s stand in unity and solidarity with refugees and recognize our fundamental obligation to shelter those fleeing war and persecution.