Published in CYPRUS MAIL on February 13, 2009
by Lecha Socratous

In June 2008, marking the occasion of World Refugee Day, the UNHCR in Cyprus launched a remarkable and insightful photographic exhibition entitled: “PROTECTION: What refugees need”.

Further to its opening at Parliament Hall in Nicosia this itinerant exhibition has been displayed at various venues, including universities, schools, coffee shops and cinemas, giving the public the chance to reflect on and be informed on the issue of refugees. Da Capo restaurant is hosting a selection of photos for one month and from Monday, photographs will be displayed at Engomi Elementary School and Aglandjia School, for five days only. Refugees show incredible courage and resilience and last year’s World Refugee Day theme of protection is a reflection of the need and right to the security that refugees deserve.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began work in 1951 with the specific protection challenge of finding solutions for Europeans uprooted in the aftermath of World War II. Since then the world has changed and refugee protection is vastly more challenging. The logo of UNHCR (protection hands) symbolizes security 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.

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 a better life, but to save their lives – an understanding that will contribute to dispel confusion, prejudices, and misinformation.

Thus the aim of the photos – each with a message to be read – is to spread 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 some of these photos well-known and unfamiliar faces make the “protection 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. Other photos show destruction, a major cause of forced displacement and provide a window into the daily lives of these refugees who have fled their homelands. Photos of internally displaced Cypriots are also included in the campaign.

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