In March 2000, the Youth Helsinki Citizens' Assembly of Moldova, supported by the Branch Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Moldova, announced a national contest of essays and pictures on the theme "Youth of Moldova against Racial Discrimination and Intolerance". Follows the letter by UNHCR' s representative Mr. Oldrich Andrysek, published in the special issue of the Collage international magazine that reproduced the work of young talented contestants raising their voice against racial discrimination and intolerance.
I feel privileged as the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Republic of Moldova to have been invited to contribute to this special issue of the Collage devoted to the essay and drawing contest organised by the Youth Helsinki Citizen's Assembly of Moldova (YHCA). I recall the day when I came to the House of Nationalities and entered the hall full of young people who anxiously awaited the part of the ceremony when prizes were to be awarded. Before that, however, several speakers made presentations in which they focussed on various aspects of what it means to be tolerant. From UNHCR's perspective, expressions of intolerance are only but a small and often first step to gross violations of human rights, the prime causes of human insecurity and involuntary displacement. The 22 million refugees who are today of concern to UNHCR are sad testament of the fact that persecution, or the fear thereof, owing to a well founded fear for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or an unwelcome political opinion, continue to disrupt too many lives.
UNHCR was initially created for a period of three years to find solutions for the millions of refugees displaced by World War II, a horrendous period of history when entire nations where persecuted or targeted for extermination. On 14 December 1950 the United Nations General Assembly, guided by noble ideals and the simple realisation that although "refugees have a problem, they are not the problem", endowed the Office of the High Commissioner with a Mandate to assist and to protect those who flee persecution. The 50th Anniversary our Office we will commemorate later this year gives rise to mixed feelings as paradoxically our longevity is a sad testimony to the state of affairs in the world we share. There is hardly a country in the world that has not been affected by forced flight and it is a rather sobering thought that UNHCR has over the past five decades assisted over 50 million people on five continents to repatriate. One in 250 inhabitants of our planet has received some form of assistance from UNHCR.
UNHCR is once again called on to care for millions of refugees in Europe and our Mandate to protect and to assist is just as relevant as it was 50 years ago. Those who may lose all but their dignity, deserve international protection in order to help themselves to re-gain access to basic human needs. To commemorate the Anniversary, UNHCR therefore wishes to salute the resilience of those who struggle against the odds to re-establish their lives.
The contest united young Moldovans irrespective of their ethnic origin and provided space for creativity and the expression of inner feelings. It also helped to raise public awareness of refugee needs through the works that so graphically demonstrate that if humankind does not wish to forfeit the benefits of freedom from oppression, it must be tolerant and when things go wrong, to provide for the right to asylum. The reproduction of the works in this publication will bring this message to a wide readership and encourage it to reflect on what is actually important in life. The team of devoted staff and volunteers of the Youth Helsinki Citizen's Assembly deserve to be commended and thanked for the event and its reflection on the pages of the Collage.
UNHCR Representative in Moldova