20 June 2012: The UN Refugee Day Agency, UNHCR, is today marking World Refugee Day with a global campaign aimed at promoting tolerance and understanding of refugees.
UNHCR is highlighting the plight of the 42.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world, and the horrific dilemmas faced by refuges who are often forced to choose between risking their lives in war zone or fleeing and risking family separation and loss of their livelihoods.
The global campaign includes community service announcement by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie which notes “nobody chooses to become a refugee”, as well as a new smartphone app, “My Life as a Refugee”, which brings to life the refugee experience and highlights some of the life-changing decisions and consequences faced by millions of refugees worldwide. These and other resources are available at www.unhcr.org.au
In New Zealand, UNHCR and Refugee Services Aotearoa kicked off World Refugee Day events in New Zealand with a parliamentary breakfast hosted by Hon Nathan Guy, New Zealand’s Minister for Immigration on 13 June.
“Refugees in New Zealand: Celebrating partnerships and contributions” was an opportunity to recognize the positive differences refugees have made in their communities.
Joining the host were guest speakers who included Richard Towle, Regional Representative for UNHCR in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Heather Hayden, Chief Executive of Refugee Services Aotearoa New Zealand, and two refugee background speakers.
“UNHCR is encouraged by the wonderful partnerships between Government, service providers and local communities that help newly-arrived refugees in their pathway towards self-sufficiency, employment, education, housing and health care,” said UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle.
The two former refugees, now New Zealand students, spoke at the breakfast about their experiences.
Benjamin Mugisho spoke of going from his homeland in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda in an attempt to locate his family, who he thought had been killed during the war in 1999. With the help of Red Cross and the New Zealand government, Mugisho was able to locate his family and join them in New Zealand after a 9-year separation.
“I will never forget the great moment I had at the Auckland International Airport when my family and friends welcomed me,” he said. “The feelings I had that day will stay memorable forever.”
Mr Mugisho - currently studying to become a lawyer - co-founded the African Students Club, which supports African youth in their education process. He is now working with three other New Zealanders to start an NGO that will support the education of orphans in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Mr Mugisho said that since his arrival in New Zealand in 2010, he has discovered that there are unlimited opportunities for anyone, regardless of their past or origin.
“My focus now is to complete my law education in New Zealand and contribute to my new country. New Zealand has given me many opportunities to succeed, and what I have come to realize is that I will be even more successful if I also help those children back in Congo who are suffering the same fate that I did and are still experiencing the same life I had before.”
Another guest speaker, Dennis Maang, was forced to flee his home in Myanmar and arrived in New Zealand in 2008. Since he left in 2001, Dennis has not seen any of his family, except for his brother, whom he was able to help bring to New Zealand.
Mr Maang works as a full-time caseworker with the Refugee Services team in Aotearoa, helping newly arrived refugees transition to life in New Zealand.
“Treating everyone equally is the main principle I am trying to practice in working with newly arrived refugee communities so that they will witness and believe in equality and develop trust in the system of their new society and country.”
Mr Maang is now studying social work with the goal of becoming a fully qualified social worker and giving back to his community.