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Rice, Jolie Mark World Refugee Day in Washington Ceremony

Secretary of State hails refugees' courage. Event draws attention to needs of 17 million refugees worldwide

Posted: June 16, 2005 Related item: Refugees build new lives in the United States  


Secretary Rice with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie launch World Refugee Day at the National Geographic Society. (State Department photo by Michael Gross)
In fiscal year 2004, United States admitted 52,868 refugees of more than 40 nationalities. Rice said the United States renews its pledge “to keep the hope of the world’s refugees alive.” Learn more about the refugee admissions program.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, and U.S. Ambassador to UNHCR Dan Spiegel, applaude Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who provided protection for more than 1,000 refugees during Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. (State Dept. photo by Janine Sides)
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined several hundred activists and humanitarian workers June 15 in a Washington ceremony recognizing and saluting June 20 as World Refugee Day.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is the official sponsor of the event in its role as the world’s leading provider of protection and safety for refugees. Forced from their homelands in more than 100 separate crises around the world, there are more than 17 million refugees in the world today, the UNHCR reports. Another 25 million are uprooted within their homelands, and are considered internally displaced persons.

UNHCR is recognizing the courage of refugees in the face of their plight, a theme underscored by Rice. “Some were driven from their homes to avoid warring factions, others to escape persecution or physical or mental or sexual abuse at the hands of the government or rebel forces,” Rice said. “Yet, even as refugees struggle each day to survive, their resilience, their strength and their humanity teach us a profound lesson in courage.”

In her remarks, Secretary Rice stated "more refugees have resettled in the United States than in any other country in the world. Last year alone, more than 52,000 refugees were resettled here".

During the ceremony, UNHCR presented awards to three American children who were the winners of a poster contest under the patronage of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie.

Rice read a letter of congratulation to the winners from first lady Laura Bush. “Thank you for your creative work and generosity of spirit, and thanks to that, the message of need and hope will spread to countless people, and the lives of refugees throughout the world will benefit, " the letter said.

The official Web page for World Refugee Day is posted on the UNHCR Web site.

An overview of U.S. refugee programs is available from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The transcript of Rice’s remarks follows:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
June 15, 2005

REMARKS

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
World Refugee Day
At National Geographic Society

June 15, 2005

Grosvenor Auditorium
Washington, D.C.

(11:00 a.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Doherty. It's really a pleasure to join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the National Geographic Society in celebrating World Refugee Day 2005. Together we salute the courage of the world's refugees and all those who work and help to protect them.

It is fitting that the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, should take up his challenging new assignment today. I look forward to working with him and continuing the strong relationship that the United States has enjoyed with the UNHCR.

The commitment of the United States to protecting and assisting refugees is deep and abiding. This commitment is a part of our nation's history and it goes to our very core values. The American people can be proud and the United States remains the UNHCR's largest donor, contributing more than three times as much as any other government in 2004. Thus far, the American people have contributed over $250 million to the UNHCR through its government and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds to other humanitarian organizations.

More refugees have resettled in the United States than in any other country in the world. Last year alone, more than 52,000 refugees were resettled here. Communities across our country have opened their doors and their hearts to refugees, helping them to begin new lives in safety and in freedom.

President Bush is committed to ensuring that the United States remains a global leader for refugees. You can find no stronger supporter of the UNHCR's work than the President, with perhaps one exception. I now have the honor of sharing a letter from First Lady Laura Bush, whose compassion for the world's refugees is matched only by her devotion to their cause. The First Lady's letter reads:

"Dear Friends, this year, World Refugee Day spotlights the courage refugees display when forced to flee their homes, set up a life in a foreign land and finally take the arduous journey of returning home or being resettled in another country to start life anew.

"Since the earliest days of our country, the United States has benefited from the contributions to our society made by the many courageous refugees who have resettled here over the years. For 55 years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has done an outstanding job of drawing public attention to the lives of millions of refugees worldwide. Events like World Refugee Day help to provide both the information and the inspiration necessary to motivate the world community to take action.

"To every participant in the World Refugee Day Poster Contest, President Bush and I send our admiration for your interest in UNHCR's Education Project and the investment of your time and talents on behalf of this great cause. We are also touched by the many imaginative ways that American schoolchildren express their heartfelt concern for their neighbors, including those half a world away.

"To today's contest winners, we send our warmest congratulations. Thank you for your creative work and generosity of spirit, and thanks to that, the message of need and hope will spread to countless people and the lives of refugees throughout the world will benefit.

"The President and I extend our best wishes to each person in attendance at this important commemoration of hope and compassion. May you enjoy your time together and leave with a renewed sense of purpose and possibility.

"With warmest regards, Laura Bush."

Ladies and gentlemen, the theme of this year's World Refugee Day Celebration -- Courage -- is apt indeed. Each of the 17 million refugees and other persons of concern to the UNHCR has a story of courage to tell. Some were driven from their homes to avoid warring factions, others to escape persecution or physical or mental or sexual abuse at the hands of the government or rebel forces. Some saw family members slaughtered before their very eyes and their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Boys and girls, some not even ten years old, had to flee across borders to avoid being conscripted as child soldiers.

Yet, even as refugees struggle each day to survive, their resilience, their strength and their humanity teach us a profound lesson in courage. Today, we also applaud the bravery of the men and women of the UNHCR who put their lives on the line to perform their vital humanitarian mission. UNHCR, we honor you for the magnificent way you carry out your noble and necessary work.

It's also very fortunate that the world's refugees have such a dedicated and effective advocate in UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie. She has visited the displaced in over 15 countries and on five continents. Thank you, Ambassador Jolie, for helping to raise the world's awareness of refugees and for your support for UNHCR's lifesaving mission.

It is also my great honor to share the stage today with a real life hero, Paul Rusesabagina, and I also want to say that we talked outside and we decided that 50 isn't so old; it means you're simply mature. (Laughter.)

Paul, you have shown us what true courage is in the face of evil. When Rwanda descended into genocide, you, a hotel manager, found the courage to shelter over 1,200 refugees from certain death, putting your own life in grave jeopardy. This story should give us all the courage to rise to the moral challenges that come our way.

The young poster contest winners we applaud today have answered the call of conscience in an exceptionally creative way. They remind us that all of us can find ways to help the world's displaced. Congratulations to Jessica Shenoi and Vicente Echeverria and to Katherine Ricker. I join President and Mrs. Bush in urging all who enjoy the blessings of security, prosperity and freedom to give your support to the millions of men and women and children who are forced to flee into an uncertain future.

Today, on World Refugee Day 2005, we join caring people around the globe in renewing our pledge to keep the hope of the world's refugees alive. Thank you very much.

(end transcript)

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