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New Zealand marks World Refugee Day

Media Release

New Zealand marks World Refugee Day: 20 June 2001

20 June 2001 is the first ever World Refugee Day.

The establishment of an internationally recognised World Refugee Day by the UN General Assembly is an opportunity to reaffirm the values upon which international agreements of refugee protection are based. A universally recognised day enhances the collective efforts of UNHCR, governments, NGOs and other concerned groups, to bring attention to the plight of refugees.

"Refugees deserve our recognition and our respect. Respect is beyond tolerance", according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Ruud Lubbers, "Protecting refugees is not an optional act of charity. It is a moral imperative and a legal obligation.

"As individuals, we must not lose faith in our own ability to bring change. Seemingly isolated personal acts multiplied a million times over can change the world. There may be newly arrived refugees in your community who could benefit from your help, friendship and encouragement as they work to rebuild their lives. We need to acknowledge the contributions that individual refugees have made in their new communities. Humanitarian organisations that work with refugees - both locally and internationally - also need your support. And politically, your opinion can influence those in government responsible for asylum issues or providing funding for humanitarian needs."

In New Zealand UNHCR, with support from the NGO PARinAC (“Partnership in Action”) Focal Point for New Zealand, has encouraged NGOs and other service providers to organise events to mark World Refugee Day in those regional centres where many refugees have settled over time. The activities range from a special welcome, including a powhiri and a concert , to the latest group of refugees resettled to New Zealand under the refugee resettlement quota (in Auckland), to colouring and essay writing competitions for secondary school students (in Christchurch), to displays of artwork and stories from refugee students (in Hamilton), to a candle floating event at the Porirua Stream (in Porirua), and finally, to the launching of a Refugee Family Reunification Trust at the Beehive in Wellington.

According to the UNHCR Senior Liaison Officer for New Zealand, Hans ten Feld, “All these different events throughout New Zealand are a strong reaffirmation of the positive and welcoming approach traditionally shown by New Zealand and its people towards refugees.” Numerous New Zealanders including many volunteers each year devote much of their invaluable time and energy to help refugees find their feet here. “Volunteers teach English, assist in accessing housing and other crucial services to enable the refugees to rebuild their lives and to reclaim their future”, he said. “The volunteer, the refugee and their families often become friends for life.”

The first ever World Refugee Day takes place during the same period as the 50th Anniversary of UNHCR as an organisation (14 December 2000), and the 50th Anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (28 July 2001). In light of those two anniversaries UNHCR has launched Global Consultations on International Protection earlier this year. A highlight of those consultations will be a Ministerial Meeting scheduled for 12 December 2001 in Geneva, to which the New Zealand Government has also been invited. The Meeting is intended to reconfirm the commitment of all states to the values and principles of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

To mark the different occasions on a global level UNHCR has among other activities established a Gallery of Prominent Refugees and produced a music CD of Refugee Voices bringing together 11 musicians from 9 African countries, all of whose lives have been marked by exile, under the direction of Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour. For more information about the above and other global activities, please consult UNHCR’s web-site .

Auckland, 18 June 2001

For further information, please contact Hans ten Feld, UNHCR Senior Liaison Officer on (09) 914 4175 and/or Judi Altinkaya, National Coordinator, Nat. Association of ESOL Home Tutor Schemes and NGO PARinAC Focal Point for New Zealand, on (04) 471 2382.

For further information about specific local activities in New Zealand, please contact the following:

Auckland: - Janet Seager, Refugee and Migrant Service (Mangere),
ph: (09) 276 6423;

Christchurch: - Mohammed Ahmed Ali (Hassan), Refugee and Migrant Centre,
ph: (03) 377 2890

Hamilton: - Ngatupuna Povaru, Ethnic Community Coordinator,
Hamilton City Council, ph: (07) 838 6765

Porirua: - Ariadne Fountain, Porirua Language Project, ph: (04) 237 5283

Wellington: - Therese O’Connell, ESOL Home Tutor Service, ph: (04) 384 1992

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