Tuesday, July 01, 2008
It was notable timing: the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) conference – held on 18th June took place two days before World Refugee Day and within Refugee Week. Celia, campaigns intern at STAR, was there to witness an open debate held as part of the conference, hosted by the Canadian High Commission, with support from the Department for International Development (DfID) and the discussion chaired by Channel Four News’s Jon Snow.
Speakers included the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guerres, as well as the Canadian High Commissioner Mr. James R. Wright. During the speeches case studies highlighted the positive as well as the negative news for refugees on the world stage, such as the granting of citizenship to masses of Burundian refugees by the Tanzanian government. After the talks the floor was opened for questions, some of which got to the core of the UN High Commissioners stance on the treatment of refugees.
A Human Rights Watch representative questioned the High Commissioner on how the British policy for asylum seekers skirts international law. The High Commissioner acknowledged this and admitted that other developed countries also omit international law from their asylum policies. Former Sudanese child soldier now rapper, Emmanuel Jal, questioned the lack of international involvement in the humanitarian crisis in his native country.
Outside the conference in Trafalgar Square a mock refugee camp gave members of the public a snapshot of life in a Sudanese refugee camp. One visitor, IT consultant Arthur Ochoa, commented that he believed people in the industrialised world were becoming immune to the tragedies and disasters affecting millions, including refugees. “We forget and take for granted the work of organisations like UNHCR, bringing relief to the most affected regions of the world.”
Nearby, the free newspaper The New Londoners – produced for Refugee Week and in its second year – was distributed. The newspaper – a worthy addition to the city’s growing free newspaper market – has been created to build ‘understanding between communities.’
For more information on the UNHCR please see http://www.unhcr.org.uk
Posted by STAR team on 01/07/2008 at 01:24 PM