By Richard Towle, UNHCR Regional Representative for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific
The theme for World Refugee Day “One refugee without hope is too many” is a poignant reminder of the fragile and often dangerous situation faced by millions of people forcibly displaced by war, conflict and persecution all around the world.
This week the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, released a report which showed that
2011 was a record year for forced displacement across borders around the world,
with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.
UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends report details for the first time the extent of forced displacement from a string of recent humanitarian crises in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. And in 2012, the deteriorating situations in Mali and Syria are placing the lives and human security of tens of thousands of people acutely at risk.
Even though Australiais fortunate to be far from these conflict zones, UNHCR is extremely grateful for the generous support of its government and people. It provides life-saving assistance and protects the vulnerable people for whom UNHCR is responsible worldwide.
Australia’s contribution (through its overseas aid program) to UNHCR’s work has helped us to respond quickly to many of these fast moving crises as they developed.
For example, in 2011 AusAID made a vital contribution to our response to the crisis in the East and Horn of Africa, which remained one of the largest operational areas for UNHCR.
The Somali conflict, already 20 years old, degenerated further in 2011 and, combined with the worst drought in decades, drove close to 300,000 refugees into neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Exhausted and often severely malnourished, new arrivals joined others who had left Somalia in previous years, bringing the total number of Somali refugees in the region to some 950,000 by the end of 2011.
UNHCR mounted a significant emergency response and provided life-saving assistance and protection for more than 292,000 newly arrived Somali refugees. In the Dollo Ado refugee camps in Ethiopia, a measles epidemic was prevented by providing measles vaccines to all new arrivals aged between 6 months and 30 years old.
In Kenya, UNHCR relocated nearly 70,000 new arrivals from the outskirts of the
various overcrowded Dadaab camps to a new site allocated by the Government of
Kenya, Ifo II.
In Somalia itself, UNHCR distributed almost 70,000 emergency assistance packages last year containing kitchen sets, sleeping mats and plastic sheeting, benefiting more than 400,000 people in Mogadishu and southern Somalia, despite the challenging security environment.
Australia’s ongoing support, through funding and refugee resettlement, is also helping UNHCR resolve some of the world’s most protracted displacement situations, including those affecting hundreds of thousands of people from countries such as Myanmar, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is estimated that at the end of 2011 more than 7.1 million refugees were living in a protracted situation for longer than five years. Added to this are the 4.3 million people newly displaced in 2011, including 800,000 who fled their countries and became refugees. The support of the international community has never been more important.
On World Refugee Day, we hope that Australians will join with their local refugee communities in a spirit of compassion and solidarity, which are the hallmarks of this fine country.
About the author: Richard Towle
Mr. Richard Towle is the Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and 13 independent Pacific Island States. Mr Towle has worked for the UNHCR since 1990, in a variety of capacities around the world. Prior to assuming his responsibilities as Regional Representative in early 2007, Mr. Towle was Special Advisor in the Department of International Protection, at the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva. He previously also worked as Chief of Mission with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia, between 2001 and 2003. Mr Towle has also held a variety of senior positions dealing with refugee issues outside of the United Nations system, in Hong Kong as well as in his home country of New Zealand, where he was in legal practice.