from H.E. Mr. Jan Kavan, President of the Fifty-seventh Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
are more than 40 million displaced people worldwide - about half
of them children. Uprooted from their homes and either “internally
displaced” within their own countries or forced to flee
as refugees to other states, these people are caught in the difficult
limbo between a turbulent past and an uncertain future. On this
third World Refugee Day, we salute the world’s displaced
people. We salute them for the courage and strength they demonstrate
as they strive toward better lives. And, since this year’s
celebration is dedicated to refugee youth, we salute young refugees
for the vital role they play in preserving the nuclear family,
in contributing to refugee camp life, and in building their local
communities, whether they return home or begin a new life in a
this day we look back on a year that saw positive developments
in the lives of many refugees. After decades of civil war, two
million refugees returned to Afghanistan and a quarter million
to their homes in Sri Lanka. In Angola, too, the trickle of returnees
in other parts of the world, the situation for refugees worsened.
It was particularly dire in West Africa, where wars in Liberia,
Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone sent tens of thousands of refugees
shuttling from one conflict zone to another.
refugee existence is particularly difficult for children. Often
separated from their families, children become vulnerable to military
recruitment and sexual exploitation. Today, more than 300,000
youths are forced to serve as child soldiers or sexual slaves.
further hardship specific to young refugees is the loss of the
educational opportunities. I commend the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its efforts to mitigate
this hardship. An impressive one million refugee children are
currently enrolled in UNHCR-supported educational programs. Numerous
Non-Governmental Organizations and bilateral donor countries also
make significant contributions to refugee education. Still, many
eligible children are without access to this basic human right,
particularly at the level of secondary education.
would like to take the occasion of World Refugee Day to urge all
United Nations Member States to live up to their obligation, as
laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to protect
the rights of refugees seeking asylum.
also urge states to be sensitive to the special needs of young
refugees. Immigration officials in Canada and the United States
have issued specific guidelines for dealing with child refugee
claims. These guidelines should serve as a model for future child-sensitive
I urge donor countries to support UNHCR and other refugee agencies
in their attempts to keep pace with the world’s refugee
we must recommit ourselves to helping displaced people, the world
over, move beyond lives of hardship and uncertainty toward lives
of stability and promise.