Ethiopia: JRS celebrates World Refugee Day with urban refugees
25 June 2009

Somali urban refugees waiting to present their claim to a social worker at the JRS office in Addis Ababa. (Peter Ballais, SJ/JRS)
“We need to recognise the dignity of refugees as human beings and try to support them as much as our capacities allow.”
Addis Ababa, 25 June 2009 JRS Ethiopia marked World Refugee Day 2009 with urban refugees, invited guests representing the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the government body, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), the Jesuits and other partner organisations. The event was organised by JRS Ethiopia in collaboration with the Development Inter-Church Aid Commission Refugee and Returnee Affairs Department (DICAC/RRAD).

The celebration was a joyous event for urban refugees in Addis Ababa and an occasion to show their potentials, share their views in public and make themselves heard. Partner organisations working in the service of refugees got a clear picture of the situation on the ground which will help them design joint strategies to tackle refugee problems.

The event started with songs played by a traditional music band and a welcome speech by JRS Ethiopia Country Director Mr. Seyoum Asfaw. In his statement he said the presence of those attending “is an expression of a sincere commitment to serving refugees.” Mr. Asfaw also mentioned the strong credibility and respect, which JRS had gained over the years in working with refugees in Ethiopia before outlining the situation of refugees in the country and the wider Horn of Africa.

Showing love and protection

“We need to recognise the dignity of refugees as human beings and try to support them as much as our capacities allow,” he said, adding that this requires the commitment and collaboration of many institutions. In line with this year’s World Refugee Day theme “Real people, real needs,” he reminded the local community of the traditional Ethiopian hospitality and urged them to accept refugees as human beings whose needs often remain unattended to and whose potential is not always recognised. The proof of this potential could be seen in the drama and music performances, poetry recitals and handicrafts products displayed by refugees in the course of the day.

The DICAC/RRAD representative Mr. Derresse Kassu, pointed out the need to tackle the root causes that force people out of their countries of origin and the need to find durable solutions; while at the same time bringing the plight of refugees to the world at large and the Ethiopian community in particular. He called upon the Ethiopian host community “to show love and protection to refugees who are living with us and to support those organisations reaching out to them.”

According to the UNHCR representative in Ethiopia Mr. Mosses Okelo, “every day should be a refugee day.” He reminded those present that being a refugee is imposed on people due to certain circumstances and remembered those who do not manage to cross a border and are suffering in their countries of origin. “There are qualified and dignified people among the refugees who could be assets for their host communities if given a chance,” he said. “They are people like you and me and should be treated equally.” He ended his speech pointing out that the best possible solution for refugees is to resolve the problems that force them to be refugees: “We want a world free of refugees,” he added.

Banding together for refugees

Mr. Yusuf Mohammed, Chairperson of the Urban Refugee Committee, thanked the organisations present on behalf of the 18 different nationalities of urban refugees. “Being a refugee is a consequence that anybody can undergo anytime,” he said. He made note of the challenges refugees faced in the areas of education and health facilities and also mentioned the need to enhance resettlement opportunities, which he admitted, were privileges rather than rights.

The speeches were interspersed with various activities, including songs played by the Children’s Choir and drama performed in the form of Contemporary Dance. Both the songs and the drama reflected the trials and tribulations of refugee life. A music band, Concrete Survival, played the song “Africa stand for one nationality, human rights for all.”

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