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Thursday
Jun202013

UNHCR, Celebrities Raise Awareness for World Refugee Day

Jordan Pix/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- One minute is such a short time. It’s the time it takes to water a plant or start the dishwasher. One minute is no time at all.

It’s an eternity.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), refugee families generally have only one minute to flee their homes. That is why UNHCR has teamed up with notable names to raise awareness for World Refugee Day, Thursday, June 20.

The agency asked people to tweet a picture of themselves carrying the one thing they would grab from their home if they had one minute to evacuate.

Brian Hansford is the UNHCR spokesperson in the United States.

“The theme this year is ‘one family torn apart by war is one too many,’” Hansford said.  “In one minute, a family can be torn apart. In one minute, a home can be destroyed. And in one minute, you can help a family who has lost everything. You can give hope.”

Hansford said people can visit UNHCR.org to see the World Refugee Day website. There, they can donate or find out more information on the campaign.

Kat Graham, who stars in The Vampire Diaries, said she would take her engagement ring, because, “It’s the one thing for me that means the most – it means hope, and love, and sacrifice and really a future.”

Graham’s co-star, Ian Somerhalder, posted a picture with a caption saying he would take his cats.

“If I was a refugee and I could only take one thing I would take my cats and I would wrap them very tightly,” Somerhalder wrote, “and I would stick a lighter and a cell phone in between them so that I could find things, call people and make fire so that I could eat.”

Eskinder Negash, as director of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), helps refugees maximize their potential in the United States through programs that provide resources to help them integrate into American society.

“World Refugee Day began in 2002,” Negash said. “The goal is to recognize the journey refugees are forced to take, and not just those who found refugee in their displacement but also the ones that were lost along the way.”

According to ORR, approximately 70,000 refugees are resettled to the United States every year. Burmese, Bhutanese and Iraqis are the top three arrival groups of refugees in America.

ORR told ABC News that these refugees are not economic migrants looking to take jobs, but rather people who are at risk of persecution and not safe in their own countries because of a number of humanitarian reasons, such as being a minority group like LGBT citizens or writers and human-rights attorneys. They often risk their lives to cross international lines.

“Yet despite the risk of drowning at sea, despite the risk of kidnapping and murder, and despite the high costs charged by the smugglers, refugees take that chance anyway – seeking freedom from civil war, from dictatorial regimes, from anarchy, from persecution,” Negash said.  “Refugees embody strength, perseverance, courage and hope. Most of them would not have survived the journey otherwise.

“Yet, many refugees embrace the opportunities that America affords them long before naturalization, opening businesses, buying homes, serving in our armed forces and National Guard – contributing to the successes of our communities and protecting our interests at home and abroad.”

Actress Angelina Jolie, a UNHCR special envoy who starred in a PSA for World Refugee Day, visited the Syria-Jordan border to witness firsthand what refugees from Syria experience amid the escalating war and violence in their country.

“1.6 million people have poured out of Syria with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and more are arriving every minute,” Jolie said in a prepared statement. “More than half are children.”

“Angelina Jolie has been in the Syrian region, as well as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres,” Hansford said. “We’re talking here about 1.6 million Syrian refugees hosted in five countries. By the end of the year, it’s estimated half the population of Syria will be in need of aid."

“These numbers are alarming,” Hansford added. “Each statistic represents an individual tragedy, an individual who’s lost hope, lost everything. On this day, it’s an opportunity to take one minute to think about that and take one minute to find out what people can do, whether it’s through social media or donating what they can.”

The UNHCR recognizes 15.4 million refugees worldwide. About 10.5 million of those are mandate refugees that the UNHCR is assisting, and the remaining are Palestinians who are assisted by the UNRWA. On top of that, there are between 20 million and 30 million (estimates differ) people who have been displaced from their homes, but are not considered refugees because they have not crossed an international border.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio