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UN Secretary-General receives UNHCR #WithRefugees petition

President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi attend UNHCR WithRefugees petition handover at UN General Assembly. © Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images/UNHCR

President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi attend UNHCR WithRefugees petition handover at UN General Assembly. © Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images/UNHCR

NEW YORK – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today received a petition – #WithRefugees – from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, signed by more than 1.2 million people expressing solidarity with millions of people across the world driven from their homes by conflict and persecution.

Taking receipt of the appeal at the UN General Assembly in New York, together with Assembly President Peter Thomson, Ban noted the global scope of support for refugees.

“We cannot let innocent people be buried by indifference,” said Ban, who noted he too had to flee when he was only six years old. “We cannot let indifference condemn families to tragedy,” he added. “We stand with refugees.”

“Powered by compassion this global solidarity for refugees has mobilized thousands of volunteers and ordinary people to reach out and help those fleeing war or persecution,” Ban said previously. “Their actions and their voices have countered messages of intolerance and hate.”

“Powered by compassion this global solidarity for refugees has mobilized thousands of volunteers.”

The appeal was delivered by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, together with refugees and prominent UNHCR supporters in a symbolic gesture just days before the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrantson September 19.

The petition calls on representatives of the 193 governments attending the Summit to make sure all refugee children can go to school; that all refugees have a safe place to live and that all refugees can work and contribute to their local community.

 “The #WithRefugees petition is about compassion and solidarity. And it’s about standing together with people who have left everything behind – except their hopes, dreams, and determination,” Grandi said.

“We need governments to stand #WithRefugees too – and to pledge to work together so that all refugees can find a place of safety; can learn, work and flourish; and can find solutions that allow them to build a secure future,” he added.

The petition comes at a time when wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR began keeping records. At the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced worldwide, of whom 21.3 million were refugees

The handover featured a live performance by award winning slam poet Emi Mahmoud of her ode to drowned Syrian refugee toddler Alan Kurdi, and a recitation of the petition by UNHCR supporter Ben Stiller, who added his voice to the #WithRefugees petition and campaign.

“I met with Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Berlin earlier this year and heard their family stories about what forced them to flee their countries. They escaped horrific violence and lost everything,” Stiller said earlier. “I am honoured to be here today to help underscore the need for governments to take action and find lasting solutions to this global crisis.”

“We need governments to stand #WithRefugees too – and to pledge to work together.”

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, model and former refugee Alek Wek also spoke.

“There is no doubt that I would not be where I am today if people had not stood with me when I was a refugee,” Wek said prior to the ceremony. “The #WithRefugees campaign demonstrates that people all over the world want to see governments come together and support refugees.”

After making history at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Refugee Olympic Team swimmer Yusra Mardini from Syria and runner Yeich Pur Biel from South Sudan also attended, as did resettled refugees living in the United States who spoke in support of the petition’s main asks.

The handover was the culmination of a week’s worth of global broadcasts by UN Refugee Agency celebrity supporters on Facebook Live encouraging people in every region to sign the #WithRefugees petition, which will remain active until all its goals are achieved.

These broadcasts were launched by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett premiering a film she produced with Facebook entitled ‘What They Took with Them.’ Taken from the poem of the same name written by Jenifer Toksvig, it lists things refugees carried with them when they fled, and expresses the trauma when conflict and persecution force people to leave their homes.

The film was also shown at the event, which was broadcast on Facebook Live.