The international community needs to demonstrate solidarity for refugees, as was the case in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, said János Hóvári, Deputy State Secretary for Global Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a conference held on the occasion of the World Refugee Day in Budapest, on 15 June 2011.
Ten years ago, the UN General Assembly decided to declare 20 June the World Refugee Day. As the anniversary is approaching, the Hungarian Presidency has invited high-ranking officials from the host countries and international organizations, NGOs and asylum experts to a conference.
In his opening speech, János Hóvári recalled that the World Refugee Day commemorates those “who are persecuted due to their nationality, religious beliefs, social status, and do not receive proper protection in their home countries”. The Deputy State Secretary said that this day is also meant for humanitarian workers, civilians and volunteers who “have worked tirelessly for refugees and stateless people to find their place in this world with proper dignity”.
Humanitarian help in Central Europe
In his speech, János Hóvári recalled the great waves of refugees in Central Europe: in World War II, Hungary admitted some 60,000 Polish refugees, and after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, due to the Soviet military intervention, approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled the country through Austria and Yugoslavia, to “find shelter in 26 countries in four continents”. The Deputy State Secretary thanked the hosts for their generous help to Hungarian refugees. “We will never forget this”, said Mr Hóvári.
The Deputy State Secretary also recalled that Hungary gave shelter to some 70,000 people who fled the civil war, which errupted during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Mr Hóvári also reminded the participants of the exhibition On the Road of Nations that opened at the same time as the conference, which elaborates these latter events. He asked everyone to look at the pictures during the breaks of the meeting, because “the photo gallery tells much more than any word.”
Role of the 1956 revolution
In his speech Gottfried Köfner, UNHCR Regional Representative for Central Europe, pointed out that the consequences of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution greatly contributed to the way refugee issues are now handled in an international context. “After the revolution was quelled, solving the situation of 200,000 Hungarian refugees was a unique example of international solidarity, coordination and cooperation”, stressed Mr Köfner.
According to the UN official, the 1956 events are of great importance because it was the first time that the affected authorities used the collective refugee status, which became an increasingly accepted tool for managing mass refugee flows.
Mr Köfner stressed that many crises are still unsolved, and there are many more around the world, including the one in North Africa, which calls for a global response.
Currently, more than 43 million people around the globe must live far away from their homes. According to the UN’s High Commission for Refugees, it is especially alarming that one third of refugees are teenagers and many are children that are not accompanied by adults.
Gottfried Köfner told the Budapest conference that both the European and international refugee systems have greatly improved in the past years, but there are still many more things to be done. The UN official stood up for the idea of creating a unified European refugee system, since “In the current globalised world, the countries must jointly find a solution to the problems of refugees.”