World Refugee Day 2009 - Speech delivered by the Representative of the UNHCR Representation in Cyprus, Cristina Planas

At the opening of the UNHCR open air photographic exhibition “Refugees: real people, real needs” on 11 July 2009 by the seafront (Molos), Limassol

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends, welcome to this function to remember the refugees.

We have put together a collection of photos that helps to understand the problem of persecution around the world, and the grounds of this persecution: religion, ethnicity, nationality, political opinion, membership to a particular social group.

Let me benefit of this opportunity to respond to some concerns that have been expressed to us following the exhibition of the collection in Nicosia.

1st- The internally displaced persons in Cyprus have not been forgotten. UNHCR worked for the internally displaced persons of Cyprus from 1974 till 1998. The suffering and losses of so many people could not be put aside by our organization. Displaced Cypriots are reflected in the panels as so they were last year. But there are 42 million uprooted persons around the world because of persecution or conflict. Among them 10,5 million, are refugees. 26 million are displaced in their own country –some times for decades. Others are asylum seekers for years. With these pictures we are thinking about ALL of them.

2nd- prevention of the situations depicted in the photos is not the mandate of one organization alone. Prevention is a collective effort of states and individuals who vote and therefore influence governments. All the problems of the world are interconnected. In a way UNHCR has the sad mandate to collect the pieces of the human destruction.

We don’t expect you to like the photos, we don’t want to make you suffer either. The photos reflect the SHAME of the 21th century, which we can only hope to revert.

Hope is also not enough. We ALL can do much more and we should. There is no valid pretext for not acting. Simply blaming the politicians of the world is not the right answer. Einstein, who was a refugee as well, said it already long ago: “If we don’t act, we are part of the problem”.
Please, reflect and invite your friends to reflect, see your capacities and choose:
-Teach Greek to a refugee;
-Teach English to a refugee
-Help one to find a job;
-Help one to do a successful job interview;
-Appreciate their differences;
-Explain your reason for accepting the different to those who don’t;
-Help a refugee to register for vocational training;
-Help him/her to find the necessary information.

The possibilities of your actions are endless. If each one of us does a bit their problems will not exist. Let’s dream, let’s simply dream that we don’t need more exhibitions like this one, that persecution ceases and the refugees cease and everybody can dress, write, talk, sing, look, without fear of persecution. Pass the word and if you disagree with what I said, come in contact with us, we will share more information with you and no doubt you will be convinced.

When you dream in this direction you will realize that you can’t stop there. Look at their faces in the pictures: women, kids, nothing criminal in then, they are abused by people eager to dominate others, eager to divide them, eager to simply exercise power. Understand the victims and do something for them. Thanks.

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