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GENEVA, June 20 (UNHCR) - The world marked World Refugee Day with events across the globe on Friday as UNHCR reported that the number of forcibly displaced people was higher than it had ever been since the end of World War II.
The annual Global Trends report said that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced around the world stood at 51.2 million, up 6 million on figures for a year earlier. The increase was driven by the war in Syria, which shows no sign of ending.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who is marking World Refugee Day with UNHCR staff and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, said the new record high reflected "the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed."
New conflicts over the past year have made the world a more dangerous place since the last World Refugee Day (WRD), and more people will be coming together to remember the millions of refugees and other forcibly displaced after one of the most challenging years in UNHCR's more than six decades-long history.
UNHCR staff have been planning for months for WRD and have prepared a wide range of activities, including light shows, film screenings, lectures, panel discussions, food bazaars, fashion shows, cultural performances, concerts and sports contests, including football tournaments in refugee camps like Jordan's Za'atari, to coincide with the soccer World Cup in Brazil.
There will also be competitions, tree planting, speeches, panel discussions, poetry recitals and photography exhibitions. UNHCR has been working with media organizations around the globe to promote World Refugee Day and has launched its most ambitious social media campaign to date.
The agency's partners, including governments, donors and non-governmental organizations, were doing their part to help, and refugees around the world will participate while enjoying much needed recognition. In many countries, public buildings or monuments will be illuminated in blue, to symbolize UNHCR and its work.
An unprecedented number of celebrities were also pitching in this year with special messages or by taking part in events, including Goodwill Ambassadors Barbara Hendricks, Osvaldo Laport, Khaled Hosseini, Alek Wek and Yao Chen along with supporters such as Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson from the United Kingdom, American film director Wes Anderson and Pakistani human rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai.
As part of its "1 Family" campaign, UNHCR has also been asking all people to share their refugee stories and these can be seen on a special World Refugee Day web site: http://stories.unhcr.org/.
The sun and World Refugee Day started rising in the Pacific, where the government of the tiny island nation of Nauru has declared a public holiday. Australia has controversially sent asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Nauru, where they are held while their refugee status is determined. There are 41 refugees in Nauru.
In Australia, a wide range of events were organized across the country, including a UNHCR photographic exhibition, "In Perspective," at Canberra's Nishi Gallery. The moving and iconic images portray the escalating global refugee crisis.