Press Releases

    SG/SM/9293
                                                                                                                            6 May 2004

    Secretary-General Invokes Individual Humanity of Refugees at Anniversary Dinner in His Honour

    NEW YORK, 5 May (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at the twenty-fifth anniversary dinner of Refugees International in McLean, Virginia, yesterday, 4 May:

    Thank you, Nane.  As you say, it is indeed hard to imagine what it is like to be a refugee.

    On a wall near my office at UN Headquarters in New York, there is a poster.  It is a collage of images:  boat people in Viet Nam; sacks of grain being delivered in Africa; a customs post in the Middle East.  But it is the poster’s headline that I like best; it states, “A refugee would like to have your problems”.

    In eight short words, that statement sums up the formidable challenges that refugees face every day.  And it reminds us of our obligation to help them do so.

    It tells us that behind the dry statistic of 50 million refugees and displaced people worldwide, there are 50 million individual human beings, many of them driven from their homes by war, persecution and human rights abuses.  Each of them has her, or his, own story.  Each of them could be you or me, if we lived in a just slightly different place, or different time.  Each one should serve as an appeal to our common humanity.  Would we like to have their problems?

    Tonight is an occasion to pay tribute to the selfless women and men who have taken that appeal to heart, and acted on it.  People who toil anonymously in dangerous places, often far from their homes, to help their fellow human beings.  People who usually receive no recognition, no medals, no parades.

    I congratulate Refugees International on its admirable work for the past 25 years.  I thank you very humbly for this honour.  Above all, I thank you for all the wonderful work you do, and I hope that many others will follow your example.  Thank you very much.

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