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World Refugee Day Focuses on Courage of Refugees

Afghan refugee Nuriah, 3, sits beside her ill father Abdullah, in their mud house at refugee camp, in Kabul (File photo - June 20, 2004)
The United Nations refugee agency says more and more countries are shutting their doors to people in need of asylum. To mark World Refugee Day, June 20, the United Nations is focusing on the spirit and courage of the world's refugees.

For the past five and one half decades, the U.N. refugee agency has helped more than 50 million uprooted people worldwide rebuild their lives.

Agency spokesman Rupert Colville says World Refugee Day pays tribute to the enormous courage of millions of refugees, who endure great suffering, without losing hope. He says it takes enormous courage just to get out of a repressive, unstable country alive.

"Very often they face huge difficulties all along the line, obviously, initially escaping, but then, just surviving in an asylum country, getting education for children, making sure women are safe and are not being exploited in any way, finding some sort of work, if that is possible, and, just keeping their own morale and dignity alive in a situation where you are about as helpless as you can imagine," said Mr. Colville.

The number of refugees worldwide has fallen to 9.2 million, the lowest level in a-quarter of a century. Despite this, Mr. Colville says, more countries are closing their doors to refugees and asylum-seekers.

He says Western European countries are the strictest in this regard. But, he says even African countries, notable for their generosity to asylum-seekers, are taking away the welcome mat. He says, in some sense, this is understandable.

"You take a country like Tanzania, for example which was very generous to refugees for a long time. And, at one period was even giving them land and letting them settle and integrate locally. But, they had so many waves of refugees. Hundreds of thousands from Mozambique, from Burundi, from Rwanda, from Burundi and Rwanda again and again, three or four times different waves. Each time very, very large numbers. Tanzania clearly had enough," he said. "And, there you saw suddenly a very much a harshening of attitudes towards refugees."

The UN refugee agency says the best solution for refugees is voluntary repatriation, but many people cannot go home. Until they can, it says, refugees need and deserve assistance and protection.