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World Refugee Day Marked Around the World - 2003-06-20

Ceremonies are being held around the world to mark World Refugee Day, and the United Nations agency, UNHCR, has announced a major effort to help Angolan refugees get home. The agency also is dedicating this year's World Refugee Day to millions of young people, whose futures have been jeopardized by war, persecution and exile. Being uprooted and driven out of one's country is a huge trauma for adults and young people alike. But United Nations refugee spokesman Kris Janowski says it is especially tough on young people.

Mr. Janowski says they are robbed of their formative years and deprived of the education and dreams young people elsewhere take for granted.

"Who are often prey to unscrupulous sexual exploitation, who are recruited forcibly, or simply to fight in someone else's bloody war, or who lose their parents and basically lose any sense of direction in their lives," said Kris Janowski. "So, they, therefore, are the vulnerable among the vulnerable."

The UNHCR notes refugee situations often drag on for years, with no political solution in sight. When this happens, it says, the enormous potential of whole generations can be lost in the dust of a forgotten camp.

The United Nations refugee agency cares for nearly 20 million people who were forced to flee their homes because of war. More than a third of them are between the ages of 12 and 24.

The agency says young refugees must be given every opportunity possible to develop their potential. They must be given the help and protection they deserve.

More than 70 countries are marking World Refugee Day with special events. Some are holding rock or classical music concerts. A number of local and worldwide celebrities are lending their fame to publicize the plight of refugees - young and old.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says his agency's staff in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are marking the day in a special way. He says they are sending off the first organized convoys of refugees to Angola, after nearly three decades of civil war.

"The plan is to return 150,000, initially, maybe more eventually," he said. "And, it is an operation, which is not going to be very, very fast, because Angola is devastated by decades of civil war. There is a major landmine problem in many parts of the country. So, it is not an ideal situation."

The refugee agency estimates about 450,000 Angolans are exiled in neighboring countries. It says it hopes all of them eventually will want to go home.