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 18 August 2009 at the Palm Trees Promenade (Foinikoudes), Larnaca.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

Welcome to this function to remember the refugees; the refugees OF Cyprus, the refugees IN Cyprus and the refugees AROUND the world.

The mandate of UNHCR in Cyprus is multiple. UNHCR is mandated by the international community to ensure the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. For our work to be meaningful we advocate, lobby, advice, train, but we also monitor the reality of the situation of refugees and make interventions to the Government on behalf of refugees on policy and practical matters. UNHCR contributes commentaries to legislative drafts and defends its positions in Parliament. UNHCR has the mandate; this means that it has received the ORDER, to monitor the application of Art. 1 of the Refugee Convention by the Governments responsible to provide the international protection; this means monitoring the refugee status determination process. UNHCR has also the mandate to monitor that the rights and entitlements outlined in the Convention are in a day-to-day granted to the asylum related persons (asylum seekers, refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries). Ultimately, the Government decides. UNHCR is not in a position to impose but you will hear from them that we try hard!

UNHCR has a presence in more than 110 countries around the world. UNHCR in Cyprus comprises 3 substantive staff and 3 support staff. UNHCR in Cyprus is generously helped by a number of interns from Cyprus and from around the world that contribute their time at no cost. UNHCR funds 2 projects with Non Governmental Organizations. There are 1500 refugees and 6000 a/s in Cyprus. You can understand that 6 persons cannot in any possible manner help directly this number of persons of our concern. In addition to that, the entire responsibility to protect refugees lies on the countries signatories of the Refugee Convention, and in the case of European Union member states there are minimum standards bellow which STATES can’t go.

IT IS PRECISELY DUE TO THE MAGNITUDE of this responsibility that UNHCR believes that the entire society as a whole, in any specific country, can play a role and complement the enormous efforts that the governments have to make in order to display their international solidarity -a trace of advanced civilizations. To this end UNHCR must liaise, network, build alliances with as many institutions, companies and individuals as possible. There is never enough of this because there is always more to do. Once some obstacles are overcome, new challenges are to be faced. The end is either when there are no more refugees, either because no body persecutes them and they can safely return home, OR because they are integrated in the host country- in this case Cyprus.

It is precisely in this context that this exhibition is taking place, which is being displayed to Cypriots and anyone passing by. We are looking for alliances, partners. We are trying to invite people to contribute in one way or another, within their own capacities to accept the refugees, to defend them, to support them, to smile to them, to contribute to improve their lives:

-To teach Greek to a refugee;
-To teach English to a refugee
-To help one to find a job;
-To help one to succeed in a job interview;
-To appreciate their differences;
-To pass a message of tolerance;
-To explain your reason for accepting the different;
-To help a refugee to register for vocational training;
-To help him/her to find the necessary information.

Now, in Larnaca, a city with 81,000 inhabitants has recently received in very short time around 1500 Palestinians formerly living in Iraq. This impacts the employment situation, the education, health, and temporarily the welfare situation. Thanks to the authorities for the initiatives to accommodate their needs.

Because of this concentration, the Palestinian Association could not be missed of this event. We have the privilege today to count on the presence of Mr. Jebril Tayyem, who will give us his own words on behalf of his community. I have this year read a number of books recently written by refugees or capturing the voices of the refugees. They speak directly better than any of us. It is my honour to invite now to Mr. Tayyem.

Right after Mr. Andreas Moiseos, Major of Larnaca will address you. I want to thank him and the municipality for accommodating not only this exhibition but for being perceptive to our suggestions and concerns. Thanks for the kindness and understanding of all of them.

Thanks to our major contributors, the Ministry of EDUCATION, the Ministry of INTERIOR and the many companies who are listed in the panels. Thanks to Vienna Bakeries and Starbucks for the reception right after this event.

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