The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day, ‘home’, sought to underline the vulnerability of all those who have had to flee from their home and country.
The chairperson of the African Union, Bingu wa Mutharika, said that World Refugee Day should serve to remind people of the challenges faced by refugees throughout Africa. “Their challenges are our challenges, and the African Union Commission, in collaboration with its various partners, is determined and remains committed in its efforts to finding durable and permanent solutions to the refugee crisis on the continent,” he said.
“The day highlights the plight of over 10 million people affected by forced displacement in Africa, including some 2.1 million refugees, 305,000 asylum-seekers, more than 6.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and an estimated 100,000 stateless people.”
Countries across Africa marked World Refugee Day on 20 June 2010 with a number of special events, including football matches in South Africa to tie in with the World Cup finals currently being held there. In Kampala, Uganda, several restaurants ran special World Refugee Day menus and gave the proceeds to help the forcibly displaced, while events were held in refugee camps such as Gihembe in Rwanda.
European Commissioners Margo Malmström and Kristalina Georgieva marked World Refugee Day with a joint statement, saying that though progress has been made, wide divergences still exist in national asylum systems.
“It is not acceptable that in a European Union based on common values and principles, the chances of obtaining protection due to all human beings under European and international law differ radically from one country to another,” said the statement. “That is why the Commission recently put forward a series of initiatives to create a Common European Asylum System with common rules based on high standards of protection for people seeking protection from dangerous situations in their home countries.”
More than 260 000 people applied for asylum in an EU Member State last year, with one fourth of them minors, according to recent statistics from Eurostat. The EU granted asylum to 78 800 people in 2009, compared with 75 100 in 2008. Most asylum seekers come from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the EU countries that granted the highest number of people protection status were the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands.
The chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Miloshoski, and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, also underlined the vulnerability of those who have had to flee. They drew attention to the obligation of Council of Europe member states to comply with international treaties for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers and the necessity to collaborate with the UNHCR.
Migration, mobility and employment represent a key focus of the Africa-EU Partnership. Significant progress has been made in the implementation of each of the 33 actions identified in the 2008-2010 Action Plan, including a joint African Union Commission (AUC) / World Bank initiative on ‘global mapping of African Diasporas’, as well as the commitment by both the EC and AUC towards the establishment of a network of African Diaspora organisations. In addition, the Centre for Migration Management and Information in Mali was inaugurated in October 2008, and an operational network of migration observatories across Africa is scheduled to become fully operational at the end of 2010.
The Joint AUC-EC Task Force Meeting of March 2010, furthermore, proposed to make €3 million in funding available to underpin the Africa-EU political dialogue on migration, mobility and employment at both continental and regional levels.
“We hope that we can all support World Refugee Day in different ways: whether it is by participating in one of the many activities organised in our countries; or by simply remembering that many in Europe faced similar journeys in the not too distant past,” concluded the Commissioners’ statement. “Protecting those fleeing persecution has contributed to make Europe what it is today.”