On June 20, World Refugee Day, the world pauses to recognize the struggles and the strength of the millions of men, women and children who are refugees today.
There are more refugees and displaced persons today than ever before, as we just learned when the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, released its latest Global Trends report.
Yet despite the terrible things that drove them from their homes, these resilient individuals continue to do their best to build lives for themselves and their families even while they remain displaced.
On June 20, 2016, celebrations around the world honored that bravery and perseverance—and also provided an opportunity for refugees themselves to have a bit of fun.
A downpour couldn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered in Kampala, Uganda, as dancers from Somalia and Rwanda took the stage. Refugee artisans also displayed their crafts at an exhibition in Kampala. Nicole, pictured above, is a refugee from Congo and part of the HIAS Uganda women's working group. She is seen with a beaded curtain made by the group, to help represent HIAS at the event. The group plans to make 80 curtains, so that each member has one to use in her own home.
HIAS Israel marked World Refugee Day by releasing a new report, Untold Stories of Success: Achievements of Asylum Seekers in Israel. The report, a compilation of personal testimonies, goes beyond the tales of hardship and loss to also highlight the strength, resilience and power of these remarkable individuals.
HIAS organized a special event in the city of Colón, Panama where 95 refugees and asylum seekers from Colombia and El Salvador took a “know your city” tour, which included a performance by the dance group Mamà Aris of the Baile Congo, a traditional African-colonial dance typical of Colón province, at the Historical Museum of Customs.
World Refugee Day was also celebrated in Kenya, although under the cloud of a recent announcement by the the Kenyan government that it was seeking to close Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.
HIAS Kenya Director Lucy Kiama gave a speech, following performances by refugee artists, at an event held at the National Museum in Nairobi.
“Refugees are persons who are forcibly displaced. They do not stop being human beings just because they crossed a border,” Kiama said. “We should appreciate that refugees had normal lives before they fled their countries and their biggest desire is to be able to live normally again including when in countries of asylum like Kenya.”
In Ecuador, multiple events were held across the country including an event for refugee children in San Lorenzo, with face painting and storytelling, and a performance by the local dance group. Locals and people in need of international protection all danced together in the middle of the central park.
A number of events were held across Venezuela, including in San Antonio del Táchira. HIAS, UNHCR, RET and CISP jointly organized a celebration, held on June 18, where roughly 100 people enjoyed games, exhibition of handicrafts made by refugees, and many types of food. The event was a touching show of solidarity with the refugee population. It was a day in which all participants came together as a family to commemorate the courage of refugees.
And in the United States, HIAS celebrated World Refugee Day by releasing a short video, which tells the story of Jalal and Kamal, two refugee brothers from Afghanistan, who are starting new lives in California. You can watch it here.