A Window Into the World's Refugee Crises

Sri Lanka injured civiliansReuters / Ho New
Sri Lanka: Injured Tamil civilians are seen in this handout picture released by the pro-Tiger rebel group www.vannimission.org on May 10, 2009, at what they claim is a makeshift hospital inside the "No Fire Zone" in northern Sri Lanka. The cornered Tamil Tigers on Sunday accused Sri Lanka of killing hundreds in an artillery barrage, which the military said the guerrillas had fired off themselves to win sympathy for a truce to stave off defeat. Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped inside less than 5 square km.

Ordinary people around the world today got an eyewitness look at the lives of the globe's displaced persons as the U.N. Refugee Agency launched a live webcast from refugee camps in recognition of World Refugee Day.

Visitors to www.RefugeeDayLive.org could see and interact with individuals from Eastern Chad, Pakistan, Columbia and other remote locations. The day's theme is "real people, real needs", and visitors to the site were able to put faces to the cause of displaced persons.

"This is a chance to see a world seldom unseen," said Greg Millar, a representative for UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. "For anyone interested in refugee issues, this is an opportunity to learn and be part of a global show of support."

Interest in the site bubbled throughout the night and several people joined the Web site's chat in the wee hours in the morning in anticipation of the live feed.

Just one hour after the webcast was live; more than 100 visitors chatted and posed questions to refugees and UNHCR staff. Site traffic hovered around 250 visitors. Question topics ranged from camp populations to water supply issues and typical days within camps.

Today's interaction was not limited to adults. Children from Camp Djabal's renamed "Obama School" in Eastern Chad spoke and shared music with American grade school children from California's Silicon Valley. When asked what he foresees for his future, one Obama School student named Rahma voiced his life ambition: "When I'm grown up I want to become president of Sudan."

UNHCR's foray into live webcasts was not without technological glitches. Early delays abounded and upgrades had to be made to accommodate the heightened number of individuals chatting. But the site's visitors maintained a positive attitude about the experience.

One user wrote, "i really think this is an amazing way to try to reach the widest possible audience and educate and make people aware of this situation."

U.N. Human Rights Ambassador Angelina Jolie remarked, "Numbers can illuminate, but they can also obscure."

The webcast is an important aspect of the UNHCRs desire to remove this obscurity.

"It's incredible to connect this way. I'm learning so much," said a site visitor.

With the international rise of social media, UNHCR is actively engaging social platforms to connect to the public.

In late 2008, UNHCR partnered with Microsoft Student and Facebook to raise funds for its "Give Me Shelter" campaign, which provides mosquito nets to refugees in need. The nets decrease the deadly occurrence of malaria at refugee camps across Africa. Microsoft pledged to donate $1 for each person that joined UNHCRs "Give Me Shelter" cause on Facebook.

Today, social networks including Twitter and Facebook converged around World Refugee Day. Visitors posted links to their own pictures and videos.

Directors planned for these videos to be played on the site later in the day.

The webcast began at 9 a.m. ET and was scheduled to conclude at 9 p.m. ET.

To view the webcast and submit your questions go to www.RefugeeDayLive.org.