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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - July 9, 2001: World Refugee Day - 2001-07-06

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The United Nations estimates that about twenty-two-million people in the world are refugees. To honor them, the U-N celebrated its first international “World Refugee Day” last month. The day also marked the fiftieth anniversary of an international agreement on the importance of refugees.

The Nineteen-Fifty-One Convention on the Status of Refugees defined the legal rights of refugees. The agreement also established international rules for the treatment of refugees. One-hundred-thirty-nine countries have signed the convention or a similar agreement negotiated in Nineteen-Sixty-Seven.

For World Refugee Day, U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the bravery of past and present refugees. He said refugees are the greatest survivors of our time because they survive even after losing everything but hope.

The U-N headquarters observed World Refugee Day with a ceremony at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Events were also held at nearby Ellis Island. This is where millions of people from other countries arrived in the United States during the first part of the twentieth century.

Jeff Drumta is a policy expert with the United States Committee for Refugees. He says the U-N refugee agency is facing the worst financial crisis in its history. He says the budget for the U-N agency has had a deficit of more than one-hundred-million dollars in each of the past two years. Mister Drumta says the deficit is largely because of reductions in money given by European countries. Refugee camps have been most severely affected by the lack of money. Mister Drumta says food and medical supplies have been reduced and living conditions have worsened.

Another concern is the safety of people living in refugee camps. Bill Frelick is the policy director for the United States Committee for Refugees. He says rebels or militias often attack people seeking safety in refugee camps.

For example, Mister Frelick says about two-million refugees fled from areas of war in Africa last year. Later they experienced violence in refugee camps. He says the safety of humanitarian workers is also an issue. During the past nine years, nearly two-hundred U-N aid workers have been killed.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.