In June 2008, on the occasion of the World Refugee Day, UNHCR Representation in Cyprus launched a photographic exhibition called “Protection: what refugees need”.
Protection is what the refugees need, the essence of the UN Refugee Agency and the obligation of states signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, such as Cyprus. The logo of UNHCR (the protection hands) symbolizes protection and all its components, such as shelter, food, clothing, medical care, education, birth certificates, identification documents, passports, family unity – all the human rights that the most privileged of the world take for granted.
Through protection the refugees have a second chance to live in dignity. Although governments bear the prime responsibility for the protection of refugees on their territory, meaningful protection depends on the positive attitude of the population in the country of asylum. Welcoming refugees can only take place through knowledge of the basic concepts, through the understanding that refugees left their countries not in search for better life, but to save their lives - an understanding that will contribute to dispel confusion, prejudices, and misinformation.
Thus, the aim of the photos (http://flickr.com/photos/unhcr-cyprus/sets/72157608616718745/)– each with a message to be read- is to transmit to the widest possible audience how refugees differ from other population movements including irregular migrants, what the obligations of the Governments are to that end, what UNHCR does in respect of protection, the different aspects of protection in Cyprus and worldwide.
In the photographic exhibition, you see people – known and unknown - making the “protecting hand” sign, symbolizing their commitment and support towards the world’s most vulnerable and at the same time making UNHCR’ s logo widely known and synonymous with “refugee protection”. You can also see photos of destruction, one of the root causes of forced displacement - the crude reality for millions of people in the world who are becoming refugees on a daily basis and in order to save their lives they have to escape from conflict, destruction and persecution and resort to a country where they will seek safety, protection (or commonly known as asylum).
Support for refugees can come from people from all sectors of society. Apart from decision makers, artists, intellectuals, people from commercial companies, every single individual on its own way can offer protection to refugees: it can be from being vocal in support of refugees, explaining to others the causes of forced displacement, personally teaching the language, granting a job in a big corporation, or giving a welcoming smile.
There are also photos of internally displaced Cypriots, for the wellbeing of whom UNHCR had projects during the period of 1974 until 1998. The protection needs of displaced inside their own country are often identical to the needs of the people who were forced to seek refuge outside their own country; the need to have access to basic human rights from which they have been deprived of (food, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, education); the grief and sorrow of being unable to return home, are identical characteristics of internally displaced and refugees. This is the reason why UNHCR believes that the Cyprus society can particularly embrace refugees with a protecting hand. Cypriots know how it feels to lose everything and having to start from the beginning.
UNHCR intends to achieve maximum impact until everybody knows who is a refugee and what refugees need. It is in this spirit that UNHCR Cyprus staged this project – it is in this spirit that a group of Cypriot photographers have taken the photos WITHOUT remuneration and made their indirect statement that they are socially oriented, global in scope, that they want inclusion and not exclusion. Many more Cypriot photographers have expressed their willingness to participate in the phases to come until World Refugee Day 2009.