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World Refugee Day Celebrated in Washington, D.C.

June 20th is World Refugee Day -- a day designated by the United Nations to "think about the plight and rights of refugees."

In Washington, DC, World Refugee Day was observed for several days.

Paul Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 lives during the Rwandan genocide, received a humanitarian award. So did Terry George, who told Mr. Rusesabagina's story in his film, "Hotel Rwanda."

Winners of a poster contest were also awarded for their efforts in visualizing this year's World Refugee Day theme: "courage".

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice read a letter from First Lady Laura Bush. "This year, World Refugee Day spotlights the courage refugees display, forced to flee their homes, and set up a life in foreign lands, and finally take the arduous journey of returning home, or being resettled in another country, and start life anew."

The ceremony was hosted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR. Actress Angelina Jolie is UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador. "Our languages, arts, religions, histories -- and ultimately, our world, would not be the same without refugees through time."

Ms. Jolie later spoke on the need to be aware of the plight of all refugees, not just those currently in the news. "It's hard to raise awareness unless there's an emergency, and then the money comes in. But then it forgets the other emergencies."

At a press conference, Joung-ah Ghedini of UNHCR, said not helping refugees quickly only compounds the problem. "So not even once, but [some refugees] have had to flee three, four, sometimes five times. And what happens then is it becomes increasingly difficult to make a claim for assistance to help them, even though their needs are just as great as someone who just fled for the first time, and is being seen on CNN or BBC all day long."

UNHCR was originally founded in 1951 to help World War II refugees either resettle back in their homeland, or integrate and resettle in another country.

The latter should be a last resort, according to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of the U.S. Department of State. "We hope that most refugees eventually will be able to return to their homes. I think that's what most refugees want to do."

UNHCR currently works in 160 countries, caring for approximately 17-million refugees.