June 20, 2008 marked the eight annual World Refugee Day, a bittersweet day of remembrance for the over 11 million refugees and 26 million internally displaced people. It is unfortunate, recalled numerous presenters, that this day must be celebrated, but it is fortunate to hear the hopeful and inspiring stories of refugees who have ameliorated their lives and to hear of the countless volunteers who dedicate their efforts to assisting them. Protection for refugees and for those who serve them was the theme of this year’s event led by UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone. He stressed the need to respect the human rights of refugees and volunteers.
A diverse myriad of speakers paid homage to the plights of refugees from four countries: Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Burma. NPR correspondent Deborah Amos anecdotally recalled her meetings with Iraq refugees and the challenged which affront them living in urban refugee settlements throughout Syria and Afghanistan. Sad stories of Sudanese refugees were recounted by Daoud Hari, whose memoirs are vividly depicted in his book The Translator. After losing much of her family in Afghanistan, The Other Side of the Sky author Farah Ahmedithanked the UNHCR for resettling her and her mother in the US. Joining her was Thimothy Ju, a young refugee from Myanmar whose recent journey from camps in Thailand to a home in Texas was documented in the MTV show True Life: I’m Coming to America. Although they all endured different experiences, they were united in their gratitude from the good works of the UN and their remembrance of those left behind. Poignantly stoic and blindly hopeful, their stories captivated the thousands in the crowds and depicted the triumph of the human spirit amidst unbelievable adversity.
This sad yet triumphant celebration concluded with the presentation of the Humanitarian of the Year Award, awarded to Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng. Born in Sudan, he relocated to Egypt and later to Great Britain, where he developed his skill and passion for basketball. He is an instrumental partner in the UNHCR’s Ninemillion Campaign that aims to bring education and sport programs to the world’s nine million child refuges by 2010. Deng donates $50 to Ninemillion for every basket he scores and encourages people around the world to follow his example. Deng delivered a heart-warming speech that placed his basketball career second to his job as a humanitarian and volunteer. The joy and exhilaration from giving a helping hand far succeeds the thrills of any championship ring.
Sponsors: The National Geographic Society and the UNHCR
Date: June 20, 2008
Time: 12-1 p.m.
Representative: Elizabeth Caniano