Saluting the Courage of Refugees

KUALA LUMPUR, 20 June 2005 - Think of refugees as people whose houses are on fire. They cannot return back into that fire, they must flee for safety.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Representative, Dr Volker Türk on the World Refugee Day event here today, said that refugees cannot return home to their countries of origin. They left them, often under most dangerous circumstances, with no belongings or documents, because of war, serious human rights violations, discrimination or simply because they had the wrong religion, gender, political opinion or race.

"It is important to dispel the damaging myths about refugees," said Dr Türk. "These myths hinder people from opening their hearts to help refugees."

According to Dr Türk, one of the misconceptions about refugees is that they are migrants. This is not true, because unlike migrants, refugees do not flee their country for better material improvements and they do not enjoy the protection of their Government. Refugees cannot return home.

"People believe that refugees want to stay in the host country and be parasites," said Dr Türk. "This is not true as a refugees' most fervent wish is to return to his/her own country as soon as possible. However, this is not always possible due to the situation back home."

Dr Türk added that refugees were frequently viewed with distrust and regarded as criminals.

"Refugees are afraid of committing crimes in a host country because they do not want to be sent back," Dr Türk. "If you speak with a refugee, you will understand better that they are no different than you and I.

"But the biggest difference is the courage they display. We are humbled by their experience, stunned by their creativity and resourcefulness, as well as deeply grateful for the courage they demonstrate."

UNHCR and the office of Dato Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz today jointly organised an event to commemorate World Refugee Day by launching the Bahasa Malaysia version of a Handbook for Parliamentarians on Refugee Law called "Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Law". This is the first time this book is translated into Bahasa Malaysia.

The Handbook on Refugee Law for Parliamentarians is the result of collaboration between the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNHCR and has been translated into over thirty languages. It serves as a guide to Members of Parliament, informing them of the key principles and challenges of refugee protection. It also intends to mobilise members of Parliament, as opinion leaders, law and policy makers, to secure adequate protection of refugees in Malaysia and elsewhere.

UNHCR acknowledged the importance of developing partnerships with Parliamentarians as they were crucial in shaping the policies of the nation.

"Parliamentarians play a crucial role in ensuring protection to refugees, in fostering a climate of tolerance and understanding for their plight and in opening communities to assist them with empathy," said Dr Türk. "You are indeed important stakeholders when it comes to demonstrating humanitarian commitment and promoting values of compassion, solidarity and providing sanctuary to those who are at risk."

World Refugee Day is a salute to the indomitable spirit and courage of the world's refugees, which is celebrated every year on 20 June. In 2005, World Refugee Day will focus on the theme of ‘Courage', to celebrate the courage and perseverance of refugees who have lost everything, yet remain positive in their will to rebuild their lives.

"Over the past five and a half decades, UNHCR has had the privilege and the responsibility of helping more than 50 million uprooted people rebuild their lives," said Dr Türk. "Throughout UNHCR's proud history, we have been constantly inspired by the incredible courage of the refugees we help and protect. While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage - the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives."

As of end May 2005, there are some 40,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. Approximately 20,000 are Acehnese from the Indonesian Province of Aceh, while some 10,000 are Rohingyas from the Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. The remaining 10,000 are other ethnic minorities from Myanmar and from other countries.

To commemorate World Refugee Day 2005, UNHCR in Malaysia will also organise a Photo essay installation on refugees: UNHCR collaborated with photographer Bernice Chauly to capture the stories of refugees in Malaysia through their portraits. This project aims to put a human face to the refugee statistics in Malaysia, and create greater compassion and understanding among Malaysians on the lives of refugees in this country. This will be officially launched on Monday, 11 July 2005 at the KL Performance Art Center. Time to be confirmed.

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