Today, 20th June, is the 10th UN World Refugee Day. 2011 is also the 60th year since the formation of UNHCR, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
UNHCR has been leading a global campaign today to highlight the plight of the nearly 44million forcibly displaced people around the world, and photography has been at the forefront of this – from the image above, taken recently in Liberia by American photographer Glenna Gordon (read her excellent blog about the story of the photo here), to a collaboration with Magnum photojournalists, and a photo gallery illustrating 60 years of UNHCRs work. Oh, and UNHCR is on Flickr too.
The UN reports that there are more refugees in the world today than at any other point in the last fifteen years. This is truly a sad indictment of the scale of modern conflicts and repression, especially when you consider that UNHCR’s original mandate in 1950 was only for three years.
I started my day today sitting on the sidelines of a series of meetings with some of the UK’s humanitarian experts, aimed at improving the way in which Britain responds to humanitarian emergencies, crises both natural and manmade that contribute to the seemingly never-ending increase in uprooted, displaced, desperate people.
I finished the day sitting down to watch two recent episodes of the BBC’s Panorama programme, presumably scheduled to co-incide with World Refugee Day. In a way they were scheduled the wrong way around; tonight’s episode followed reporter Peter Greste to Somalia, and traced the story of a failed state from which hundreds of thousands of people have fled over the past 20 years. The episode from a few days ago, Breaking into Britain, traced the journeys of refugees from Africa and Afghanistan trying to get to asylum in Britain. Peter Greste’s report from Somalia opened with images of the Daadab refugee camp in Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp, home to over 300,000 displaced people, many of them from Somalia. Set up 20 years ago, it has now become an almost permanent home to many people, a city of refugees. The Guardian ran an excellent set of photos charting Daadab’s history a few weeks ago.
Communications is often the last thing on people’s minds when faced with massive migration of people, due to conflict, drought, earthquake or floods. But time and again it is photography that brings the plight of refugees to the world’s attention, when words and warnings fail to do so.