|Actress Yao Chen, UN Refugee Agency Patron at World Refugee Day.
Popular Chinese actress Yao Chen, Honorary Patron for the UN Refugee Agency, told visitors to the UN Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 that a recent visit to refugees living in cities in the Philippines had completely transfored her impression of refugees.
"When people in China think of refugees, they think of people in camps," she said at a panel discussion to commemorate World Refugee Day. "They think of thin faces and fearful eyes."
But in the Philippines, she said – showing videos and photos of her trip where she met four refugee families – "I got quite a different impression because even though these people face difficulties, they have a positive attitude. They have been welcomed and they have been able to help themselves and contribute to the Philippines."
"As an actress," Yao Chen added, "I like to explore people's feelings and I was glad to learn that these refugees have not only been able to fulfil their dreams, but they are able to pass their dreams to their children."
In the Philippines, which signed the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1981, refugees have the right to work and even gain citizenship. One of the refugees she met, a Palestinian man, owns an employment agency that finds jobs for about 80 Filipinos a month, making a significant contribution to the country's economy.
In keeping with Shanghai Expo's theme of "Better City, Better Life," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trying to dispel the perception that refugees live in rows and rows of tents in refugee camps. The reality is that as many as 50 percent of the world's refugees – just like half of humanity – now live in cities and towns across the globe. The rights of refugees, whether they live in urban areas or refugee camps, should be the same according to UNHCR.
World Refugee Day is marked around the world every year on 20 June to honor around 36 million uprooted people that the UN Refugee Agency serves.
Yao Chen said she came away from her conversations with refugees in the Philippines believing that "what refugees need is not necessarily material assistance. They need a city that gives them a chance to re-establish their dignity, realize their dream, be recognised and be accepted."