Bulgaria Marks World Refugee DayFeatures |Author: Vasil Stefanov | June 20, 2014, Friday // 16:53| views
Photo by Vasil Stefanov
June 20 marks the World Refugee Day. Events are being held across the world to raise awareness of those millions who continue escaping war-torn regions in search of shelter.
By a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Refugee Day was first observed in 2001. The day marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Thirteen years later, in 2014, the world has unfortunately seen an increase in the displacement of people, rather than the opposite. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide at the end of 2013. This is the first time in the post-World War II era that the number has exceeded 50 million.
For yet another year, Bulgaria actively participated in marking June 20. While in the past, refugees may have seemed like a very distant concept to most Bulgarians, over the past year they have increasingly come across this phenomenon, as thousands escaping the Syrian conflict sought asylum in the country.
As a creative way to raise awareness of the problem, UNHCR Bulgaria with the partnership of Sofia Municipality, introduced a thematically painted bus that will run through the city. The vehicle is painted with the faces of refugee children from different ethnic backgrounds, while on its other side is the message “Nobody chooses to be a refugee”.
The head of UNHCR Bulgaria, Roland Francois-Weil, together with representatives of the Sofia Municipality officially launched the newly painted bus, which will operate the 280 line, from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski to Studentski Grad (Student’s City).
The hope of UNHCR is that as many people as possible will see the faces of desperate children depicted on the bus, and send a message that being a refugee is something that can happen to anybody in any place.
In a separate event, organized by the Bulgarian Red Cross, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), and UNHCR, the refugee center in Sofia’s Vrazhdebna district opened doors for guests of the media, diplomats, NGOs, and civil society. The head of the center, Colonel Ivan Penkov, welcomed the guests and showed them around the newly renovated facilities.
Refugee children, dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes, greeted the guests with a specially baked bread and salt, as the custom is.
Due to the devastating floods in eastern Bulgaria, which claimed at least 10 lives, the musical part of the program was cancelled as a sign of solidarity. For the same reason, some officials, like Vice-President Margarita Popova, Deputy Prime Minister Daniela Bobeva, and Bulgarian Red Cross Chair Hristo Grigorov, were not able to attend, as had initially been announced.
“I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to everyone who helped us throughout the most difficult times. These are the Bulgarian Red Cross, state institutions, NGOs, volunteers, the European Union, and foreign governments. As a result of this joint effort, Bulgaria is now in a better position than it was a year ago, in terms of its capabilities to meet the needs of refugees”, Vasil Varbanov, Deputy head of the State Agency for Refugees stated, after calling for a minute of silence for the flood victims in eastern Bulgaria.
“As Europeans, we have a duty to help these people, who are running from death, and from war. They have come here, to give new hope to their children, to restart their life. The efforts of our volunteers have been indispensable throughout these hard months, and so has the partnership with state institutions and NGOs.
The challenge is not over and we cannot afford to relax. We must keep working hard to build tolerance and acceptance within society for these refugees. Yes, Bulgarians are traditionally tolerant and welcoming people, but we have also heard many conflicting views recently. We must unite in order not to let the voices of hate grow and spread. The floods of the past days should serve to show us how vulnerable we all can be in unexpected circumstances”, a Bulgarian Red Cross representative said in her address on behalf of Hristo Grigorov.
After the official part of the event, many of the children, together with BRC and NGO volunteers, played games outdoors and made new friendships.