Speech delivered by UNHCR’s Representative, Cristina Planas, at Lanitis Foundation in Limassol on the occasion of the World Refugee Day 2008

"Excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today. What a delight to be able to invite you to such a spectacular venue for this photo exhibition!

I also want to invite you to look at the picture of choreographer Photos Nikolaou (also in portrayed in the invitation). What you see is not only a choreographer, you see also the limbo in which asylum seekers and refugees find themselves when they escape from the country where they experience persecution and arrive in a new country --They are neither here, nor there: in the air, in the uncertainty, until they are integrated--- Except that Photos Nikolaou feels reassured / confident ----–the same way that refugees can feel IF there is the flame of hope.

Because it is necessary that this subjective hope has an objective basis, in 2006 the UN Refugee Agency launched the HOPE campaign. Through this campaign we aimed at enhancing the understanding of the Cypriot population on:
-Who qualifies as a refugee
-What is the difference between a refugee and an economic migrant
-What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker
-why Cyprus, as other countries, is responsible to properly examine who qualifies to be a recognized refugee.

This understanding is to dispel confusion, prejudices, and misinformation.

The components of this campaign were the photographs of Marina Shakola, a young philanthropist who has contributed her time, her creations, AND her thoughts; a well known artist who has chosen to make a difference in the society, to see further and see through, to travel to the African continent and have a close contact with the reality, the OTHER REALITY of refuge camps and displacement, to advocate through her ART, through HER LENSE, choosing on her journey Cypriot of all layers of society who wanted to pass a message in defence of the refugees.

As part of this campaign universally famed tennis player Baghdatis reminds all of us that we travel for our dreams, while others travel to escape -for their survival.

We are so lucky that we take it for granted, and from there, from our world of comfort, some universalize their easy life and display scepticism ---and because they ignore the realities of the world, from their sofa nurture the culture of disbelief and become deaf to the cries of those who are victimized due to their political opinion, their ethnicity, their religion.

Marina Shacola’s photos have appeared -- accompanied by short asylum related messages-- in three newspapers (Phileleptheros, Politis, Cyprus Mail) during several months and we want to thank them for their social role.

Another component of this campaign was the HOPE T-shirt, that you may wish to buy at the entrance, conceived by well known Cypriot designer Kika Ioanidou, portraying a vulnerable human being (either a woman or a man), who had to flee their country because of a fear for their life, and they are hoping for help; help comes to them from those understanding their plea.

This T-shirt has been sold and its profits have permitted the United Nations Refugee Agency in Cyprus to recruit an additional lawyer to provide legal assistance to refugees to get access to their legal entitlements in accordance to the national and the European refugee legislation. This is one opportunity for everybody in the society to make a difference. The effort of many consolidated together make a big difference.

Among 32 million uprooted persons world wide, Cyprus hosts around 1000 refugees and some 11,000 asylum seekers whose applications are waiting to be processed by the Government.

Because we are luckier than the refugees, and we didn’t have to flee, advocating on their behalf, displaying understanding and empathy is the way how we can show humane gratitude.

When we launched this campaign I could name every contributor. The contributors are now too many to enumerate them all. Allow me to thank them collectively and invite you to read the list at the entrance, but in particular let me thank,

-again Marina Shakola
-the Russian Commercial Bank, the major sponsor of this exhibition
-The Foundation of Evagora and Katheleen Lanitis for this perfect organization and this outstanding setting
-Phileleptheros Group

We continue relaying on all contributors for activities that build a positive public opinion based on well informed citizens, because if there won’t be persecution, there won’t be refugees. Those that are so vocally sceptical against refugees hopefully will become vocal against persecution.

To those, multiplying empathy, understanding, commitment, expanding HOPE, our immense thanks.

Thanks you very much to you and please continue enjoying the collection in this venue of serenity and refined taste."

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