A Tribute to the Strength and Resourcefulness of the World’s Refugees

Posted by Todd Pierce
June 18, 2009
UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie in Pakistan

About the Author: Todd Pierce serves as Public Affairs Advisor in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

The Secretary of State was unable to make it due to injury, and CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper was stymied when the bad weather cancelled his flight. But this year’s World Refugee Day event was a hit nonetheless, with moving speeches by Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and by three refugees who resettled in the United States.

Today's event, one of several worldwide sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), commemorates the resilience of displaced people around the world and raises awareness of their needs. Drawing on the theme “Real People – Real Needs,” this year’s 90-minute ceremony focused the audience’s attention on the human stories behind the sometimes numbing figures we hear about in the stories of displaced people. Ann Curry, host of the popular American morning news show “Today,” served as MC.

Representing the U.S. government, Acting Assistant Secretary Sam Witten thanked UNHCR and other organizations that help refugees, and said supporting them is “in the best part of the U.S. tradition.” UN High Commissioner Antonio Gutteres remembered the two UNHCR staff who died in the line of duty in Pakistan this year, victims of terrorist attacks on humanitarian workers, and thanked the U.S. for its support of UNHCR.

The tech triumph of the event was a live satellite link with the students at the “Obama School” at a refugee camp for Darfuris in eastern Chad. The Washington audience and the students waved at each other, and the young spokesman for the students told us they wished that the school had more teachers. Most of all, he said, he and his classmates wanted to go home.

Angelina Jolie, who has done almost 40 field visits for UNHCR since becoming a Goodwill Ambassador, singled out the resilience of the refugees she had met. She told moving stories of hospitality she received from refugees who were destitute. Later in the day the foundation she created with her partner, actor Brad Pitt, announced a gift of $1 million to UNHCR to help newly displaced people in Pakistan.

Perhaps the most moving moments of the day came from former refugees themselves. The Baral family spoke about being forced out of Bhutan and living in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal. They qualified for resettlement in the United States and moved to Phoenix. They expressed their gratitude to the U.S. government, to UNHCR and all the other groups that have helped them in all phases of their journey. They were realistic about how difficult it can be for refugees who come to the U.S., between culture shock and the recession, but optimistic that life would be better in the United States. Rose Mapendo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave a harrowing account of her time in a Congolese prison . As the mother of 10 children, she was forced to deliver twins by herself, in her cell, with no doctor present. She thanked those who had helped her escape and qualify for resettlement in the U.S. Since her arrival she has founded a non-profit group to draw attention to the plight of refugees and to help recently arrived refugees adapt to life in the United States.



James J.
District Of Columbia, USA
June 20, 2009

James in Washington, DC writes:

As a Grants Officer in Population, Refugees and Migration, you see the numbers of recipients served and the dollar amounts contributed towards their betterment, but once you meet the people and listen to the stories of their plight and struggles is when everything comes into a hard reality. As citizens of the U.S., we are so consumed by our everyday lives and comforts that we fail to think of the less fortunate. As a man, I cried and I felt their pain and I thought what more can we do? What more can I do?

South Korea
June 19, 2009

Palgye in South Korea writes:

Before saying, Hillary Secretary of State and the actress Angelina Jolie(with her`s husband actor Brad Pitt,just like a "Mr. & Mrs. smith") sending my thanks substitutes the many people will doze and many to put an interest and effort confronts to the sufferers gives.

Now the international sufferers who occur in former times simply occur from warfare and the race where from before five LAN exists occurs from Guiana disease or religious discord according to change of international relation the case which occurs locally sporadically to be many that occurrence area the most specific nation the case which is internal is many, problem of intervention at the time of domestic intervention the mortar becomes mainly U.N. or ngo the same international body intervention but military power, is thought and that [ten] does not accompany a convincing power the effect the expectation the case which does not become is many, is picked up.

So, the celebrity intervenes and interest of the international community appears the case which expects aeration making the effect to be coming being more. Also the effect considerably the big thing is fact. That is like that, that mobilizing always like this method there is a problem sees. Secret intention thought right now some righteousness passenger plane and the transport plane and, the combatant strength which will escort them always waits and buys the people and provides the material and the combatant strength decides the specific area and the demilitarized zone does like this tragedy late is thought and the thing one method is picked up that area.

But, invites the external personage and a deep appreciation to effort of the minutes to reduce the pain gives. If there is not effort and thinks the thing which will be annoying from the pain where the many people are absurd.

The disposal which is most basic accelerates the speed of democratization of the various nations and with liberalization and outside world sustained interchange leads is thought about politics and, economy and cultural each field the ceremony level of the citizens that improves to is important.

Me where the general consideration is turning out repeatedly the star there is not a method which is special. Being healthy always, when wishes, (is sorry. Now to be busy translates a little and raises. Crime thinks be. Reason is busy without. Reason?).

New Mexico, USA
June 20, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ James in Washington, DC -- Hi James, welcome to the blog.

Got a question for you, if somehow our UN ambassador convinced South Korea and China to come to a memoranda of understanding on North Korean refugees seeking asylum in the south and crossing into China to get there; whereby China's concerns regarding "instability" may be addressed in this area as well as being a humanitaran act in allowing refugees escorted transport (addressing the human trafficking problems that occur now) through its territory, and South Korea provided the transportation from Chinese territory (port or airport), in the asylum process;

What kind of grant do you think the U.S. should provide the two nations as incentive to work together on this?

I know, it's a total hypothetical, but hey...this is a blog, right?

"In the realm of all things possible," if that is suitable context?

Tennessee, USA
June 20, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

The fortitude of existence by man is a primal effort; but, the true spiritual effort for hope and improvement when it comes from those who have no personal, political, or higher calling to do such, is quite outstanding to me.

Least we not forget people as Cynthia Basinet, who diligently worked for the Western Sahara well over a decade providing her time and personal funds. One woman who on her own petitioned the UN many times. I have seen her in Africa, working with hammer in hand, well before it was a popularized by even Jimmy Carter to help those less fortunate. This effort is the escense which provides the hope...the helping hand.

The only realistic resons to look foward many of these people have is from the U.S.A. Be it by our citizens, government or missionaries. We forget it is us who provide the alternative to continue another day.

America is not, nor never has been an external threat to any society who wants peace.

New York, USA
June 23, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Refugees Within Iran:

One woman's death now represents the ultimate sacrifice of an entire people. The ruthlessness of the Iranian Guard makes all freedom-loving Iranians refugees in their own home. The idea of the "Great Satan" is now revealed to be a projection by a despotic regime. The resilience and resourcefulness of these "domestic-refugees" is insurmountable by any means of repression.

July 13, 2009

Johnson writes:

One woman's death now represents the ultimate sacrifice of an entire people,,,,,,,,,,,,,


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