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Millions mark World Refugee Day at events across the globe

GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR)—Across the world millions marked World Refugee Day on Saturday with joyful and celebratory events in sharp contrast to gloomy statistics showing spiraling global conflict and persecution have led to record numbers of people fleeing their homes.

From Africa through Asia to the Americas, UNHCR and its partners celebrated lives that, once in danger of being lost, had been transformed and given fresh hope. Tales born from misery and suffering ended with inspiring notes of achievement, success and hope.

Ger Duany, an actor and former Sudanese refugee, was made a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador while visiting Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp on World Refugee day. The refugees in the camp dressed him as an honorary Turkana as part of the festivities.

Ger Duany, an actor and former Sudanese refugee, was made a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador while visiting Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp on World Refugee day. The refugees in the camp dressed him as an honorary Turkana as part of the festivities. © UNHCR/D.Nahr

In Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, Hollywood actor Ger Duany was reunited with his mother, who still lives in the camp. Duany, who fled fighting in what was then southern Sudan, was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in one of many ceremonies taking place in the camp, the second largest in Kenya and home to about 184,000 refugees.

The other nationalities in the camp read like a roll call of regional conflictsSomalia, Darfur, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Eritrea. Last year, due to some 15 new or reignited conflicts, fewer refugees than in previous recent years, 128,000, were able to return home.

Duany is the star of The Good Lie which tells the story of a group of “lost boys”and one girlwho are orphaned and displaced by civil war in Sudan and eventually find their way to America. It mirrors his own life.

UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, held a press conference on World Refugee Day from Midyat camp in Mardin, Turkey.

UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, held a press conference on World Refugee Day from Midyat camp in Mardin, Turkey. © UNHCR/B.Denton

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt spent the day meeting refugees from Syria in refugee camps in Turkey. In the last year, Turkey has taken over from Pakistan as the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world, largely as a result of conflict in Iraq and Syria, where the war has entered its 5th year.

Speaking after visiting Midyat, one of a network of 24 refugee camps across the country where 260,000 people now live, the Oscar-winning actress called for renewed international efforts to settle the conflict in Syria and those elsewhere.

“This World Refugee Day marks some frightening truths about our inability to manage international crisisabout our inability to broker peace and find lasting solutions … There is an explosion of human suffering and displacement on a level that has never been seen before, and it cannot be managed by aid relief, it must be managed by diplomacy and law,” she told a press conference.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, visits a Syrian refugee family in Turkey's Midyat camp on World Refugee Day.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, visits a Syrian refugee family in Turkey’s Midyat camp on World Refugee Day. © UNHCR/M.Jaques

UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, published on June 18, detailed that the increase in forcibly displaced in 2014 was the largest leap ever seen in a single year and said the situation was likely to worsen still further.

Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.

Given the statistics, the White House described World Refugee Day (WRD) as a solemn occasion.

“The struggles of some are captured in searing images-of people waiting at border crossings, housed in endless lines of tents, and crammed into rickety boats at sea-while those of others, crowded into the shadows of large cities, may go unobserved,” it noted in an official statement.

As part of the regional campaign "Tour around the world with a backpack" (La vuelta al mundo en una mochila), UNHCR invited unaccompanied children to make traditional Mexican toys at the Popular Art Museum in Mexico.

As part of the regional campaign “Tour around the world with a backpack” (La vuelta al mundo en una mochila), UNHCR invited unaccompanied children to make traditional Mexican toys at the Popular Art Museum in Mexico. © UNHCR/M.Echandi

Still in the Americas, UNHCR ran a campaign highlighting the needs of childrenwho now make up half the number of the world’s refugees. Called “The tour around the world in a backpack”, its aim is to generate empathy and solidarity among the various worlds of the children. It will visit 10 Latin American countries and culminate in Washington DC.

The backpack was chosen as it is a common object among the children. They use it to go to school, to do sport but also to escape from one country to another country because of war and persecution.

In Asia, various activities marked WRD from Rohingya refugees in Myanmar playing soccer to UNHCR trained barbers giving free haircuts.