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Somali refugees after arrival at Hagadera camp in the north-east Kenyan district of Dadaab. The Dadaab camps are the most crowded in the world, housing almost 300,000 though built for just 90,000 refugees.
UNHCR / E. Hockstein / August 2009
A Sudanese refugee family in front of their makeshift shelter in Figuera, near Birak in Chad. After surviving bombings and militia attacks in the Darfur region, the family walked across the border to eastern Chad. Here they wait to be moved to Kounoungou camp by UNHCR.
UNHCR/H. CAUX/March 2008
A quake survivor at Mundihar camp, near Mansehra, explains her plight to a UNHCR community services worker, Balakot, NWFP.
© UNHCR/V.Tan/January 2006
Princess KristiLynn ready for her golden carriage to take her to the Ball.
We surprised the children with opening night tickets to see their first ice skating show ... Disney On Ice, Princess Wishes.
All they knew was that they were going somewhere special dressed as an adorable little Prince & Princess. They were so surprised to find out they were among the many Prince's & Princess' at the Ball ... I mean show.
They were awestruck with delight watching every move on the rink by the fabulous skaters!
Here's a link to a wonderful song titled, "Cinderella" by Steven Curtis Chapman
PUBLISHED SweetNothing blog ~ When I Grow Up &
AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE on Getty Images
Internally displaced Chadian girls collect wood in Habile village after it was attacked and burned by militiamen. Collecting firewood can be dangerous for the displaced, especially women, who are often raped in isolated areas. / UNHCR / H. Caux / December 2006
While snorkelling around the mangroves, what appeared to be a flying carpet almost bumped into me. It was the biggest Polyclad flatworm I had ever seen—230 mm (9 inches) long. We hung around together for quite some time; it would swim, crawl across the bottom, and occasionally attach itself to a mangrove root. It had a small tear through the centre of its body but was in good spirits, and we got to be friends although I never did get its name. I could have discovered a new species, that would be cool.
I took this shot with my 16mm fisheye lens.
To read our web story of this kana Kopi bay :
Young girls attend a maths class at a school in Niger's Diffa region, where more than half of the students are Nigerians who have been displaced by fighting.
UNHCR / K. Mahoney / January 2014
Niger's Diffa district provides shelter for Nigerians fleeing violence
BOSSO, Niger, January 24 (UNHCR) – Surrounded by her earthly possessions in a makeshift shelter, Mariama blows out her cheeks and makes the sound of an explosion as she tells visitors why she fled from her home in north-eastern Nigeria.
The attack that made her flee Baga village took place nine months ago, but she recalls the traumatic experience as though it were yesterday. And new arrivals continue to refresh her memory: an estimated 1,500 have fled into southern Niger's Diffa region in recent days to escape fresh violence in Nigeria. A further 4,000 Nigerians have fled to Cameroon
In her case, Mariama claims, "Men from Boko Haram [a militant group] had come to attack a military base. Our village is nearby so the military then came to attack us" in the early morning. "It was around 6pm when we heard gunshots. The gunfire struck our house and exploded like a bomb," the 47-year-old tells UNHCR visitors to the border town of Bosso in Diffa region, a granddaughter sprawled on her lap.
She says the explosions were grenades, hurled indiscriminately at her home, sparking a fire that levelled the entire village. "We fled without shoes, without anything, carrying our children as we could."
The security situation in parts of north-eastern Nigeria has been deteriorating since May 2013, when the government declared a state of emergency in three states – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – and launched a military operation to put down the insurgency. Recurrent attacks by rebel groups on civilians and security personnel have increased since 2012.
A recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that more than 1,200 people, including civilians, military and insurgents, have been killed. As a result of the attacks, many Nigerians have reported a pattern of preemptive flight: once insurgents attack, civilians flee immediately in fear of a possible army reprisal.
As her village burned, Mariama fled to the bush with her husband and their 10 children, drinking water from puddles. After three days, she says, the army returned, triggering panic and fear among those in hiding. People fled in all directions; Mariama and her family made their way on foot to Bosso.
Mariama's friend Sahadatou, who calls in for a chat, was also in Baga on the day of the attack. Sitting among the clothes, blankets and buckets, she says she came out of hiding to help her injured neighbours. "So many died in the fire, but the bodies were burned so badly, we couldn't identify them," she says, adding: "We don't even know how many died." She too fled to Niger.
A Niger government census released in November revealed that more than 37,000 people-including 8,000 Nigerians and nearly 30,000 Niger nationals-had fled into the Diffa region since last May. A small number of third-country nationals have also sought refuge in the area. In December, the government started granting temporary refugee status to Nigerians fleeing to Niger from the three affected states.
Since the start of the influx, local communities have welcomed displaced people into their villages and homes, making land or rooms available. The mayor of Bosso, Aboubacar Marah, set the example by hosting nearly 100 people, mostly women and children. "I've never seen anything like it," he says of the influx. "The border is only 100 meters from here and we hear shooting at night from the other side."
To respond to the influx, UNHCR deployed an emergency protection team in May.
"Our team had to adapt quickly to the hidden nature of the crisis," says Yvette Muhimpundu, a senior protection officer. "We are incredibly grateful that the community welcomed the displaced into their homes so we are focusing on strengthening the resilience of both the refugees and the host community."
She says the goal of this community approach is to foster peaceful coexistence. By ensuring that the shelter, food, security and health needs of the refugees and the locals are met, both communities will benefit equally from UNHCR's support.
In partnership with other humanitarian agencies, UNHCR has distributed relief items and will launch a shelter programme to better accommodate displaced people. In addition, the government of Niger will issue identity cards to the displaced this year, while the World Food Programme will distribute food to the most vulnerable families among those who fled Nigeria.
As for Mariama and her family, the warm reception and help that they have received here has helped to make their situation more bearable. But more than anything, she's thankful she found peace. "Even if I'm not in a real house, I can sleep in peace and security. There is no question of going back now, it's too insecure."
She and her family are doing their best to provide for themselves; she sells pancakes in the market, her daughter works as a seamstress and her husband is cultivating a plot of fertile land near Lake Chad. Despite her new life as a refugee, Mariama's physical and mental state has dramatically improved.
"If you had seen me when I arrived, you would have pitied me," she tells UNHCR. "But now I'm recovered and I'm strong. No pity now."
By Kathryn Mahoney in Bosso, Niger
Nationality is critical for full participation in society. Without citizenship, women are deprived of basic rights, like this stateless Indian Tamil working on a tea estate in Hatton, Sri Lanka.
UNHCR / G. Amarasinghe / May 2007
Tens of thousands of desperate people are attempting to reach Europe in dangerous boats like these in Libya.
UNHCR / F.NOY
Latest tragedy off Libya adds to death toll in Mediterranean
GENEVA, 8 July (UNHCR) – A Syrian mother and her two young children were among 12 bodies recovered after the latest boat sinking involving the thousands of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
UNHCR told reporters that so far this year more than 500 people are known to have died trying to cross the sea from Africa and Asia to various countries in Europe. A record 64,000 people traveling in small boats from north Africa have reached Italy alone this year – more than in all of 2013.
The Libyan coast guard informed UNHCR on Monday that the dead in the latest accirdent included three Syrians – including the mother and her children aged three and six -- three Eritrean nationals and six other Africans of as yet undetermined nationalities, spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing.
The boat, which reportedly capsized off the coast of Tripoli, had a capacity of about 200 passengers and may have been carrying many more people, Edwards said. Search and rescue operations are ongoing and the fate of others who may have been aboard is unknown.
At least 217 people are believed to have drowned off the Libyan coast so far in 2014 while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Another 290 people are confirmed dead or missing from accidents in the waters off Italy, Turkey and Greece, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean so far this year to over 500 people.
"UNHCR applauds search and rescue operations by government authorities but asks that such operations are further strengthened – particularly in areas with high concentrations of boat crossings," Edwards said.
"We are also urging States worldwide to look at providing legal alternatives to dangerous sea journeys – such as increased family reunification, speedy resettlement and humanitarian admissions," he said. "Governments are additionally being encouraged to resist punitive or deterrent measures including detention for people seeking safety."
UNHCR's Tripoli and Benghazi offices have registered almost 37,000 asylum-seekers and refugees. Syrians make up the largest group (18,655), followed by Eritreans (4,673), Somalis (2,380) and Iraqis (3,105).
"Not all asylum-seekers are registered," said Edwards. "Many asylum-seekers live in precarious conditions – such as over-crowded accommodations with little legal access to employment and have been affected and further displaced by the current unrest in Libya."
Syrian refugee Umfadi holds a solar powered lamp beside her 13-year-old niece Rama in her shelter at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.
UNHCR/ S. Baldwin
IKEA's Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign raises €10.8 million
GENEVA, 10 April (UNHCR) – A campaign by the IKEA Foundation in the global retailer's stores this year raised €10.8 million that will improve the lives of refugees by providing educational opportunities and distributing renewable energy devices such as solar lights.
Under its "Brighter Lives for Refugees" campaign, the IKEA Foundation during February and March donated €1 to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for every LED light bulb purchased by an IKEA customer. The funds will help improve the lives of 380,000 refugees in Bangladesh, Chad, Ethiopia and Jordan.
"Thanks to IKEA's co-workers and customers, thousands of refugee children and families will now have access to sustainable energy and lighting," said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation. "Simple activities like sharing a family meal, doing homework and important social gatherings will now be possible for some of the most vulnerable people on our planet."
The campaign, which began in 2014, raised €7.7 million last year. Already thousands of refugees have benefited.
In Jordan, some 11,000 Syrian refugees living in Azraq camp can move around safely after 500 solar streetlights and LED streetlights were installed. In refugee camps around Dollo Ado in Ethiopia, 40,000 solar lanterns – one per refugee family -- and 240 streetlights are being delivered. In Chad, over 13,000 refugee children have been enrolled in primary school.
"The number of displaced people worldwide has, for the first time since World War II, exceeded 50 million people, including 13 million refugees who are under UNHCR's care," said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikoff. About half are children.
"In this context, the engagement of the public worldwide through our long-standing partner the IKEA Foundation has never been more important. I greatly appreciate the efforts of IKEA co-workers and the support of the customers who participated in this global campaign so that we can make the lives of thousands of refugees better and brighter," Aleinikoff said.
A lack of light in refugee camps after sunset can have a devastating effect on safety and security. The campaign focuses on providing renewable energy solutions like solar-powered streetlights, solar-powered lanterns and fuel-efficient cooking stoves that make camps safer and more comfortable.
The IKEA Foundation has partnered with UNHCR since 2010, helping to provide shelter, care and education in refugee camps and surrounding communities. The Foundation has to date committed more than €125 million in support to UNHCR.
Somali refugees in north-east Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex. Kenya took part in the ministerial meeting.
© Australia for UNHCR / T. Mukoya
Ministerial meeting reaffirms commitment to solving Somalia crisis
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, August 20 (UNHCR) – Participants at a ministerial meeting co-chaired by UNHCR in Addis Ababa on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to find solutions for hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and called on the international community to help the Somali government in its efforts to restore peace and progress.
The commitment came in a communiqué released at the end of the meeting, attended by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and ministers of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Yemen, which together host nearly 1 million Somali refugees. Another 1 million Somalis remain displaced within Somalia. Also present were the UN Special Representative on Somalia and representatives of the African Union; the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development; and the UN Economic Commission for Africa;
"We hereby endorse a renewed engagement for Somali refugees which binds us to act in solidarity to address the imperatives of this pressing problem. At the heart of these commitments are guiding principles which emphasize the importance of the Somali Federal Government's commitment in actions concerning Somali refugees, the imperative of continued support to host communities, the need to increase refugee participation in future actions and to create differentiated solutions for a diverse refugee population, the benefits of considering new alternatives for long-staying refugees, and the importance of engaging new actors in the search for solutions," the communiqué said.
"We undertake to work with national, regional and international partners in a coordinated manner to give effect to the renewed commitments and outcomes of relevant sub-regional and regional meetings," the participants stressed, before calling upon the international community, through the Global Initiative on Somali Refugees, "to commit to the renewed engagement and work together for a more meaningful life for Somali refugees."
Read the communiqué: www.unhcr.org/53f4ce1a9.html
Monique, one of the victims of the Lord's Resistance Army helped by Sister Angélique.
NRC/ A. Ackerman
Former Lord's Resistance Army slave now sings a joyful tune
DUNGU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 18 (UNHCR) – Monique's* voice is loud and clear, ringing out from a small lively choir of young people outside a church in the remote town of Dungu in the heart of Africa. Clapping and dancing, she and her friends are rehearsing for Sunday's service. But just four years ago, the 18-year-old had nothing to sing and dance about and thought she would die.
In 2009, she became one of the tens of thousands of women abducted and physically and sexually abused by the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, a twisted and misguided Ugandan rebel group that has left a trail of misery in the Great Lakes region over the past quarter century. More than 320,000 people are still displaced.
She was snatched with five other teenage girls when the LRA attacked their village, Duru, some 90 kilometres from Dungu in Orientale province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 14-year-old's stepfather was killed in front of her and her pregnant mother beaten so badly that she miscarried.
The girls were taken to live in the bush and become the sex objects of LRA warriors. "When we were taken, we were given to men. Mine was much older than me and was married. At night he wanted to sleep with me by force and if I refused he would beat me," Monique recalls. "I felt very bad when he took me by force. I felt bad because I was still a virgin. I thought I was dying," the young woman adds.
Monique thought she had been condemned to spend her life as a slave of the LRA and this old, violent man.
The Lord's Resistance Army first appeared in Uganda in 1987 and soon earned a name as a brutal rebel group that kidnapped children. It has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2005, and has killed more than 2,000 people and abducted about 3,000 there in the past eight years.
Life in the bush was brutal. Beatings and murder were commonplace. But Monique was relatively lucky: after many months of captivity, she was rescued by Congolese troops as she was out foraging for food with LRA fighters.
The soldiers brought her to Dungu in the hope that she would find some relatives there. The optimism was well placed as Monique found her mother and little brother. But her joy was shortlived. After two months, she discovered that she was pregnant.
It was a total shock and too much for her to deal with. "I did not know what to do. Go to the hospital to get an abortion or keep the child," Monique says. As she wrestled with her emotions at this pivotal moment, Sister Angélique Namaika, the winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award this year for outstanding service for the forcibly displaced, came into Monique's life and gave her advice that would change her life.
The comforting and sympathetic Roman Catholic nun convinced the pregnant young woman to keep the baby and to learn to love him. Sister Angélique had arrived in Dungu in 2003 to conduct pastoral work with other nuns, but since 2008 she has been dedicating her time to helping girls and women who have suffered at the hands of the LRA. She was herself forced to flee LRA violence in 2009.
"I was very happy to have kept the boy," says Monique, who was amazed at the goodness and wisdom of this gentle nun from the village of Kembisa in Orientale Province, and says that she had never met anyone so kind and generous.
Sister Angélique not only gave Monique advice about her child, she also started to teach her a trade – sewing – that would help her to become independent and earn vital money to stay alive and bring up her child.
Monique now makes school uniforms and other clothes. She hopes that with the income from sales she will soon be able to buy a bicycle that will allow her to make house calls and deliveries and build up her client base.
"With the money I make, I pay for food and medical care. I have my own sewing machine and I use it a lot," she says, adding that her dream now is to one day send her son to school. "I am optimistic about the future," she concludes with a smile.
* Name changed for protection reasons.
By Céline Schmitt in Dungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Eleven-year-old Youssoufa was separated from his parents for more than eight months and trapped in the town of Yakole. His parents were recently traced in Cameroon but it was too late for the desperate boy, who died last week.
UNHCR / A. Soroungba
Pining Central African boy dies before family reunion possible
BANGUI, Central African Republic, February 17 (UNHCR) – The pain of separation proved too much for one young boy from Central African Republic, who died last week of severe manutrition, desperate to escape a virtual prison and reunite with his parents.
Youssoufa was one of the latest victims of the bitter inter-communal violence and terror that has plagued his homeland since March 2013, when predominantly Muslim anti-government Seleka forces took power in Bangui and indulged in gross rights abuses, triggering a bloody response by Christian-linked anti-Balaka militia groups.
The extreme violence has caused massive population displacement, with tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes and find safety within Central Africa Republic or in neighbouring countries. Many children have been separated from their families during the trauma and chaos of flight, including Youssoufa and his two sisters, Ramatou and Awaou.
The UN refugee agency regards unaccompanied minors and separated children as particularly vulnerable and tries to trace parents or other relatives. It is working closely with asylum countries and the Central African Republic authorities to reunify children and family members.
It is too late for Youssoufa, but UNHCR hopes that his sisters and other separated children in the Yaloke enclave – where they have been trapped for months – will be reunited with families in Chad and Cameroon.
The boy's ordeal began in February last year, when his family and others fled attacks by armed groups on the mainly Muslim and nomadic Peuhl, or Fulani, people in Lobaye prefecture, west of the capital of Bangui.
They walked for months, hiding in the bush, running for their lives, desperately searching for a safe haven. But disaster struck when the family tried to board a truck heading towards Cameroon. In the desperate scramble, Youssoufa's parents were able to escape but the boy, his two sisters and their grandfather were left behind.
The four of them, after escaping attacks, found refuge in a small town called Yaloke, located about 200 kilometres north-west of Bangui. But their new home effectively became a prison, with some 400 Peuhls living in a 500-metre perimeter protected by troops. It was a shock for this proud, nomadic people, who found themselves unable to provide for themselves and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
As the conditions deteriorated, Youssoufa became more depressed and desperate. He had not seen his parents for more than eight months; he had witnessed all sorts of horrors during his flight. He was also suffering from severe malnutrition and lost his ability and desire to eat, despite encouragement from aid workers. He died on Tuesday last week
All were touched by this young boy and his love for his family, and saddened as he began to waste away. Two weeks ago, UNHCR finally managed to track down his parents in Gado, eastern Cameroon.
They were delighted to hear that the three children were alive, but worried about their situation. They were waiting for that special moment when they would be reunited. Then came the devastating news that their homesick son had died.
"The news of the death of Youssoufa was a shock to all of us," said Kouassi Etien, UNHCR's representative in Central African Republic. "We are working hard to identify the locations of other separated family members of IDPs [internally displaced people] trapped in Yaloke in order to facilitate their reunion before it is too late."
As it mourns his death, UNHCR hopes to reunite Youssoufa's siblings with their parents. It has also identified another 14 separated children in the Yaloke enclave as well as 23 individuals wishing to be reunited with their families in Cameroon or Chad.
UNHCR also continues to advocate for the respect by all sides of freedom of movement for those at risk, a basic human right. More than 90 per cent of the Peuhls in Yaloke have told aid groups that they wish to be evacuated on humanitarian grounds.
By Dalia Al Achi in Yaloke, Central African Republic
People risking sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal often set sail at night.
UNHCR / Shahidul Alam
More people risk Indian Ocean voyages despite abuse, deterrence
GENEVA, December 5 (UNHCR) – A new UNHCR report released on Friday has found that more people are risking their lives on smugglers' boats in South-East Asia despite the prospect of violence en route.
The refugee agency estimates that 54,000 people have undertaken irregular maritime journeys in the region so far this year, based on reports by local sources, media and survivors. This includes some 53,000 people leaving from the Bay of Bengal towards Thailand and Malaysia, and hundreds of others moving further south in the Indian Ocean.
The outflow from the Bay of Bengal tends to peak in October, when calmer waters follow the end of the rainy season. Departures this October surged more than in previous years. Some 21,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have set sail since then, a 37-per cent increase over the same period last year. About 10 per cent are believed to be women. Roughly a third of arrivals interviewed by UNHCR in Thailand and Malaysia were minors under 18 years of age. Children as young as eight years old are known to have made the journey alone.
In total some 120,000 people are believed to have embarked on these voyages in the Bay of Bengal since the start of 2012. With payments ranging from US$1,600 to US$2,400 demanded for each passenger, smugglers plying this route are believed to have generated nearly US$250 million in revenue in the last three years. While the majority of people paid smugglers for the journey, there were isolated accounts of people who said they were forced onto boats, sometimes at gunpoint, in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Conditions on the smugglers' boats were dire. Survivors consistently described overcrowded conditions and daily rations of one sparse meal and one to two cups of water. People who asked for more or tried to use the toilet out of turn were beaten or kicked down ladders by the armed crew on the deck above. An estimated 540 people have reportedly died this year at sea from such beatings, starvation or dehydration, and their bodies thrown overboard.
In Thailand, survivors told UNHCR staff that they were ferried from the big boats on smaller boats to the mainland. There they were held in smugglers' camps and made to call relatives to pay for their release. When payment was not immediate, they were beaten or subjected to other acts of torture.
Since last year, hundreds of people are alleged to have died in the camps from illness, starvation, dehydration and killings by smugglers when they tried to escape or could not pay.
According to survivor accounts, raids by law enforcement agencies in Thailand since the beginning of the year seem to have led to a marked reduction in the number and size of smugglers' camps in the country. Some of the survivors UNHCR interviewed had gone through the camps more than once. They were rescued in government raids, placed in immigration detention, then opted for deportation or escaped and re-entered the smuggling cycle to escape the prospect of indefinite detention.
Rohingya and Bangladeshis who arrived in Thailand in recent months have been systematically screened by government teams to assess the potential for human trafficking. If found to be victims of trafficking, they are transferred to shelters to facilitate their rehabilitation and investigations of suspected smugglers. UNHCR hopes that this screening can be expanded to an assessment of all international protection needs.
Most arrivals in Malaysia crossed by land from Thailand and were kept in holding houses in northern Malaysia, usually for a few days. UNHCR staff met a teenage girl who married a Rohingya man after he paid for her and her brother's release from a holding house.
As a result of the abuse and deprivations they suffered on smugglers' boats and camps, this year nearly 200 people approached UNHCR in Malaysia with beri beri disease, a form of Vitamin B1 deficiency that left them unable to walk.
Several boats arrived directly in Malaysia from the Bay of Bengal this year. Nearly 300 people who arrived on three boats were arrested. UNHCR has been able to access people from the first two boats and is seeking access to the third group. Yet others arrived by boat undetected and are living in the community.
Two-way boat traffic continued between Indonesia and Malaysia, with some Rohingya moving to Indonesia after spending some time in Malaysia. More than 100 Rohingya were registered with UNHCR in Indonesia this year.
UNHCR staff spoke to some Rohingya who tried to sail onward to Australia but returned due to bad weather, engine failure or interception by Australian authorities.
This year to date, there were 10 known interceptions of boats carrying 441 people hoping to reach Australia. Seven boats with 205 people were returned to Indonesia. All but one of 79 passengers on two boats were returned to Sri Lanka. Separately 157 people on a boat from India were transferred from the Australian mainland to an offshore processing centre in Nauru, where they remain detained.
Of the more than 6,500 people of concern to UNHCR who travelled by sea and were put in detention in the region, more than 4,600 were held in Australia or the offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Congolese refugees who thought they had found safety here in Zemio camp in Central African Republic were attacked when they ventured back to DRC to work their land.
UNHCR / A. Kitidi
UNHCR condemns kidnapping of Congolese refugees by LRA rebels
GENEVA, 27 March (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency on Friday called for the immediate release of Congolese refugees kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has intensified attacks in the area bordering the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year.
A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 15 Congolese refugees from a refugee camp in Central African Republic (CAR) and one Congolese national were kidnapped by the LRA on 21 March from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) side of the border, where they had been tending their fields.
Thirteen – two women and 11 men -- were released two days later and trekked back to the refugee camp near Zemio in the southeast of the Central African Republic. Some arrived with open wounds and a 16-year-old girl had been raped. Three refugee boys are still missing.
"Since the arrest in the Central African Republic of Dominic Ongwen, an LRA top commander accused of crimes against humanity, in the beginning of this year, LRA rebels have intensified their attacks on villages at the CAR/DRC border," UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl told a news briefing.
"According to Catholic Relief Services, the LRA has committed over 25 abductions in the month of February in several villages in northeastern DRC, close to Zemio and the border," she said.
Zemio refugee camp hosts some 3,400 Congolese refugees from the Ango Territory (Bas-Uele District), in Province Orientale in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2009, they had fled LRA atrocities in the Province Orientale and found refuge in the Central African Republic.
"This week, however, they were once again victims of violence and torture," de Gruijl said. "Upon their arrival, the released refugees were immediately transferred to the health centre in Zemio where they are receiving the necessary medical care. They are still in shock and anxious to learn about the missing refugees."
UNHCR and its partner International Medical Corps are providing psychosocial counseling and the refugee agency has also stepped up efforts to provide refugees with up-to-date information on the security situation and any LRA activities in the region. It is also warning refugees of the risks of moving between the camp in the Central African Republic and their fields in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The LRA appeared in Uganda in 1986, established its first base in Sudan in 1993, and spread to the DRC in 2005, before moving further north into the Central African Republic in 2009. Chased by the Ugandan armed forces, remaining LRA rebels have retreated into the forests in southeastern Central African Republic. It continues to wreak havoc and spread terror in the region.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported an increase in LRA attacks in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. In particular, the number of abductions rose from 346 in 2013 to 566 cases in 2014.
More than 180,000 people remain internally displaced in LRA-affected areas in the CRA and the DRC, while LRA violence caused more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries: 9,232 CAR refugees in the DRC; 3,388 DRC refugees in CAR; and 15,769 DRC refugees and 2,047 CAR refugees in South Sudan.
UNHCR and partners are assisting refugees and seeking lasting solutions, including voluntary repatriation. To date some 640 refugees have registered for a voluntary return programme that will be facilitated by UNHCR. The programme is expected to start in the coming weeks, once the rehabilitation and extension of Zemio and Ango airstrips is complete.
Naomi Chol scored the highest mark in her district in the annual Kenyan exams, a tribute to her hard work and the quality of education at the school.
UNHCR / C. Wachiaya
Student excels at Angelina Jolie Pitt-funded girls school in Kenya camp
KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya, March 27 (UNHCR) – Naomi Chol studied at a school funded and supported by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, but the 16-year-old from South Sudan has become a celebrity herself in a Kenyan refugee camp.
"Everywhere I go, people call me and come to shake my hand," she tells visitors to Kakuma camp where she studied in a school known locally as the Angelina Jolie Primary School. It was set up by the UNHCR Special Envoy in 2002 to cater for girls with special protection needs.
The reason for all the attention is Naomi's excellent performance in the annual Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams, which took place last November. More than 880,000 students sat the exam nationwide this year and Naomi scored 418 out of a possible 500 marks – the highest mark in the district in which Kakuma is located.
That's not the only good news: the school, which opened with an initial enrolment of 150 girls, recorded an 86 percent pass rate. Today, some 250 girls study there, including refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Burundi and Uganda as well as some girls from the host community.
Naomi's achievement is a tribute to the quality of education provided at the boarding school and to the policy, promoted by Jolie Pitt and UNHCR, of trying to ensure that all refugees get at least a primary education. Many of the 1,500 girls at the school who sat this year's exams will hope to move on to secondary school.
"The school has consistently performed well since its inception," noted UNHCR education officer, Mohamud Hure, who added that Naomi's achievement "further cements the importance and impact of providing a safe learning environment for refugees." She's also become an inspiration to others. "We are proud of what she has achieved," says Anyuak, a Class 5 student.
Naomi knows that she was lucky with her education and that the conditions at some other schools in Kakuma and elsewhere are tough. Problems include overcrowding, lack of qualified teachers, and shortage of school equipment and supplies. "I am lucky to have studied in a boarding school as it gave me more time to focus on studies. My parents also encouraged me a lot and reminded me of the great opportunity I have to be in school," she says.
Things did not look so rosy in 2008, when her family fled conflict in their home area of South Sudan's Upper Nile state and made their way to Kenya's capital Nairobi. Her parents wanted her to get a good education but could not afford it. They decided to send her to stay with an aunt in Kakuma, where she was enrolled in 2012 as a boarder at the primary school.
Many other girls in the camp had given up on their studies, Naomi noted. "Most of my friends were just staying at home and some were even getting married. I didn't want that for myself," she adds.
Naomi has a goal: "I want to be a neurosurgeon. I love science and I know there aren't many female neurosurgeons in the region, but I believe in myself," she explains. And she hopes her next school, the respected Loreto Matunda Boarding School in Lodwar (a national school that is one of the top schools in the district) will bring her closer to that goal.
She also dreams of lasting peace in South Sudan so that she can help rebuild the country after so many years of conflict, both before and after independence in 2011. "Excelling in my education is the best gift I can offer to my country because, with education, one can achieve anything in life."
Her message is a welcome one and shared by many other students. But UNHCR struggles to find places for all those primary students wishing to continue their studies in one of the four secondary schools in Kakuma.
Naomi's teachers in Kakuma acknowledge this challenge and admit that deserving students like her need to be enrolled in good schools where they can continue to excel. "Chol is an obedient and bright girl," says Isabella Muthoni, head teacher of the school. "She has made us all very proud and what she has achieved is not only a major boost for all the girls, but it is also proof that any girl under any circumstances can achieve success."
By Cathy Wachiaya and Mohamud Hure in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
Central African refugees on the banks of the Oubangui River on the Democratic Republic of the Congo side.
UNHCR / B. Sokol
Fresh violence displaces almost 50,000 people in Central African Republic
BANGUI, Central African Republic, February 24 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported that an upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic has forced the displacement of almost 50,000 people since the start of the year.
This includes an estimated 30,000 who have fled their homes and found refuge in other parts of the country and more than 19,200 people who have crossed into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province.
UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl, at a press briefing in Geneva, said those displaced within Central African Republic since January had mostly moved to the northern town of Batangafo and to Bambari in the east-central part of the country. Many were escaping violence associated with seasonal movements of livestock and clashes between herders and the local and agricultural populations with the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka militia.
Exacerbating this, some herders have turned to the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group for protection. In addition, recent military operations forcing ex-Seleka forces out of public buildings in Bria, a town east of Bambari, prompted reprisal attacks on nearby villages. Civilians were caught in the middle and saw their villages, houses and belongings burnt down. People who arrived in Bambari were destitute and distraught. The majority are women and children and some had been hiding in the bush for weeks.
De Gruijl said that UNHCR had distributed relief items to more than 1,170 recently displaced families in Bambari, while 800 families in Batangafo had received emergency kits. "But while the security situation remains precarious, the humanitarian needs are still enormous," De Gruijl said, adding: "Armed elements enter some of the sites for displaced people in Bambari and Batangafo, threatening people and extorting money."
Some of the displaced live just metres away from their former homes, yet they cannot go back for fear of losing their lives. While most of the local authorities are absent, many public buildings in Bambari are controlled by ex-Seleka forces. "A more robust police and gendarmerie presence is urgently needed to protect civilians and to prevent further killings and acts of retaliation," UNHCR's de Gruijl stressed.
She added that across the border, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR had registered more than 19,200 refugees who had arrived in Bosobolo territory in the north of Equateur as a result of new violence since December in Central African Republic's Kouango district, in Ouaka prefecture.
"Our teams on the ground report the ongoing arrival of refugees who tell us that they fled clashes between the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka militias in their villages. They say that their houses are being burned and they have no other choice than to flee. If they stay in their villages, they risk being tortured or killed and women are being raped," de Gruijl said.
New arrivals have also been reported in the territory of Mobayi. Some 2,400 refugees have crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, using new entry points in the territories of Mobayi and Bosobolo since February 15. Most are children. They said that they had fled out of fear of violence by ex-Seleka fighters after a disarmament operation in Bria.
UNHCR and its partners are on the ground to set up a new refugee site in the area of Bili, away from the border. Newly arrived refugees currently live in spontaneous settlements on the bank of the Oubangui River, the natural border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic, with limited access to health care, clean water and food. Children have no access to education.
De Gruijl said UNHCR was organizing emergency assistance, including mobile clinics, and access to potable water while preparing their transfer to the refugee site. The lack of services and logistical challenges in this remote part of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo are making this work even more difficult. The hospital in Bili has only 15 beds and lacks equipment
"Our teams have received alarming reports of sexual violence by armed elements from CAR [Central African Republic]," de Gruijl said, citing the case of three refugee girls kidnapped and raped by armed men. "We fear that there are many more cases that remain unreported. Therefore, relocation of the refugees away from the border is crucial and we call on all partners and the Congolese authorities to deploy all necessary efforts to allow this transfer to take place urgently," she added.
Almost 900,000 people have been forcibly displaced by violence in the Central African Republic. Some 442,000 are displaced inside the country, including more than 50,000 in Bangui, some 35,000 people who fled to Bambari and 33,700 in Batangafo. Some 451,000 are living in exile, mainly in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo (24,000)
Sarah looks on as her husband, Ndimubanzi, uses thatch from his roof to prepare the fire for his Save80 stove. Before he got the stove the family had to use large branches to produce enough energy to cook a meal.
UNHCR / L. Beck
Innovation: A Congolese mother sings the praises of wonder stove
NAKIVALE, Uganda, March 19 (UNHCR) – To hear Sarah Barasebwa talk about her family's favorite possession, it sounds almost miraculous: it adds hours to her day, keeps her safe, saves firewood, has increased her crops and enables her son to go to school.
What could accomplish all that? Her Save80 energy-saving stove and its aptly-named accompanying Wonderbox. Sarah, a mother of four, sings the praises of the two devices, which the family received from UNHCR in this refugee settlement in south-west Uganda more than two years ago.
They respect the round metal stove so much that her 50-year-old husband, Ndimubanzi Barasebwa, has built a raised, padded storage shelf in their home to make sure it won't rust. Thanks to the special care, it still works like new, the family says.
The name Save80 means that an experienced user can save 80 per cent of the firewood consumption of a traditional open three-stone fire, the kind Sarah was accustomed to using in her native Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Just to cook a meal, the entire family of six used to have to constantly search for wood. Sometimes it took the family an entire day, or even two, to collect the necessary firewood.
Now the family not only uses dramatically less firewood, the food also cooks in a much shorter time. "It prepares food in 20 minutes, while before it was taking one hour," says Sarah. She's especially pleased to cut the cooking time for beans – a staple in their diet – from three hours to one.
With the time saved, Sarah says she can spend more time in the family garden, growing maize, beans and potatoes to feed her family – and even to sell. It's a source of great pride that with the profits she can buy clothes for the children and pay secondary school fees for their 17-year-old son, Baraka.
"I usually know what I want to do in a day, but if I have to spend the whole day cooking, I can't accomplish everything," says Sarah. "This stove has really helped me do more in a day."
What she really loves is the heat-retaining Wonderbox that came with her precious stove and keeps cooked food warm for hours. "You can prepare food for a few minutes and then put it in the Wonderbox, go off and do work," Sarah marvels. "You come back in a few hours and find your food ready and still hot, so you can eat it."
That's the perfect way to give oldest son Baraka a warm nourishing breakfast every morning before he sets off to walk 90 minutes to the only secondary school in this vast settlement. "Our children used to go to school in the morning having eaten cold food, but now they eat warm food because it is kept in the Wonderbox," says husband Ndimubanzi.
In Nakivale, as in many refugee settlements around the world, the search for firewood can damage the environment, create friction between refugees and local communities and expose women to danger. When the family arrived six years ago, there were plenty of trees, but with 60,000 refugees now living in the settlement, measures were brought in three years ago to limit tree cutting.
Thanks to the Save80 stove, Sarah says her family members go to search for firewood only four times a week, don't have to travel as far, and don't need such big logs. They just pick up small branches while doing other things.
"Before we used to move throughout the whole forest looking for strong firewood, but now we can just collect it on the way," she says.
"Environmental degradation is a big problem across all our settlements in south west Uganda", says Andrew Mbogori, head of the UNHCR sub office in Mbarara "There are many benefits to refugees from living in a settlement where they can farm their own land, but it is also a lot harder to regulate how they use resources. We need to make sure that we respect the generosity of the government of Uganda."
Sarah and her family received one of only 1,000 Save80 stoves handed out two years ago. Judging from its impact on her life, she can highly recommend it to her neighbours as firewood becomes scarcer here.
By Lucy Beck in Nakivale, Uganda
Roghaye Dowlati, aged 23 years, was hired by fellow Afghan refugee Roghaye Dowlati after taking part in a tailoring course.
UNHCR / R. Ebrahimi
Revolving fund paves way towards self-reliance for Afghan refugees
ESFAHAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, March 16 (UNHCR) – Ali Jan Jafari says the traditional view in his homeland, Afghanistan, is that women should stay at home and look after the children.
"We believe they cannot go out of the house and work," the 41-year-old refugee tells a UNHCR visitor to his small garment business in Esfahan, central Islamic Republic of Iran, while adding: "I never had female workers before this project."
Ali opened the business with a loan granted through a revolving fund set up by UNHCR and Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants' Affairs (BAFIA) in 2013 to help increase employment opportunities and encourage self-sufficiency, particularly for vulnerable female refugees.
When considering his loan application, UNHCR and BAFIA referred a number of female refugees to Ali to interview and evaluate. "I was immediately impressed with many of the women and their abilities. I discovered a newfound respect for their role in providing support to their families and society," he says.
Ali had been brought up near the western Afghanistan city of Herat believing, like most people, that a woman's place was in the home. His life was disrupted when conflict came to the country in the 1980s. Ali's widowed father, fearing for the safety of the boy and his six siblings, decided to flee their village and cross into Iran. He was just eight at the time.
Ali resumed his elementary school studies in Esfahan and began working after school in a fabric factory. When he was 17 he began learning tailoring, and later started a small workshop in his family's home with his two brothers and four other men.
Over time Ali built up a good reputation for himself in the garment industry in Esfahan and was interested in investing in newer equipment and expanding his business. However, as a foreigner he faced limitations in acquiring a loan.
Ali heard about the revolving fund through BAFIA, the refugee agency's main government counterpart, and submitted his application for the equivalent of about US$3,500. He was granted a loan after an Iranian friend in the garment trade signed the guarantee on Ali's behalf. Within three months of getting the money, he had rented premises, bought new sewing machines and hired almost 50 people, about half of them woman.
One was fellow Afghan refugee Roghaye Dowlati, who was born and raised in Esfahan after her parents fled the conflict in Afghanistan in 1981. Now, at 23 and the oldest of four children, she feels responsible for helping her elderly parents to provide for the family.
Roghaye had participated in tailoring courses run by UNHCR's partner, the Technical Vocational Training Organization, and applied for the job in Ali's workshop after receiving a notice from UNHCR and BAFIA. She has since become a professional tailor and particularly adept at challenging techniques.
Ali and his wife have four children, including two girls. He says the most important thing for the couple is giving their children, boys and girls equally, an excellent education so that they have a good start in life.
"I think there are two ways to help people. One is to give them cash assistance. This will solve their problem for a while. The second way is to show them a way to develop themselves so they may solve their own problems," says Ali. "I selected the second way and have given employment to people in need. This has helped them to generate income and empower themselves," he adds.
Meanwhile, UNHCR and BAFIA are working to expand the revolving fund to benefit refugees countrywide. The fund, with US$230,000 provided over four years by UNHCR, has disbursed loans to six businesses, of which almost 80 per cent has been repaid, and provided much needed employment for 45 people.
By Teddy Leposky in Esfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran
Refugees from Nigeria queue to get water at the Minawao camp in Cameroon. UNHCR has registered over 40,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon's Far North region to date, and 32,000 of them have moved to Minawao.
UNHCR / D. Mbaiorem
As violence spreads beyond Nigeria, UNHCR calls for urgent access to the displaced
GENEVA, February 13 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency, concerned about the spread of violence from north-east Nigeria into neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, on Friday called for urgent humanitarian access to refugees and internally displaced people in these countries.
In Niger, fighting broke out last week between the Niger armed forces and Nigerian insurgents in the town of Bosso, which is located near Lake Chad in the southern region of Diffa. This has been followed by a series of attacks in Diffa town against civilians, including by suicide bombers. With fear and panic spreading fast, large parts of the population of Diffa are moving further west, towards the city of Zinder.
Spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva that UNHCR had no confirmed figures for the internally displaced, "but we fear that the scale of displacement is high: Prior to the attacks Diffa had a population of 50,000 – today the town is virtually empty."
He added that thousands of people had fled other towns and villages of the region. While most of the internally displaced are hosted in local communities, there are serious shortages of food and clean water.
"This situation is being further exacerbated, as shops remain closed and humanitarian actors have had to significantly reduce their activities in the Diffa region because of the general insecurity. At present there are no humanitarian actors left in Bosso," Edwards said.
Since May 2013, when the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the state of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, more than 100,000 people have fled north-eastern Nigeria into Niger, including Niger returnees and refugees from Nigeria.
Initially the refugees and returnees lived among the host population, but their growing numbers required establishing two camps, Sayam Forage and Kablewa, located in safer areas away from the border with Nigeria. As well as providing more safety, the camps, which opened in January, also facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
When last week's violence erupted in the Diffa region, some 700 refugees had already been moved to the Sayam Forage camp. Edwards said UNCHR and other agencies were still delivering assistance to them, but had been unable to access displaced people outside camps because of the recent attacks.
"We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation, as several thousand people are at present without any assistance. We are working with authorities to securely deploy aid workers as soon as possible and at the same time we are preparing for rapid evaluation and response assessments," the UNHCR spokesman said.
"In Cameroon, the situation is as worrying," he added, citing reports of killings, abductions and violence in the country's Far North region near the border with Nigeria. Insecurity is making it increasingly difficult for UNHCR teams to access the border areas where refugees arrive before relocation to Minawao refugee camp, some 120 kilometres away.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 9,000 Nigerian refugees have fled into Cameroon and been moved to the camp, where they are receiving emergency assistance. UNHCR has registered over 40,000 Nigerian refugees in the Far North to date, and 32,000 of them have moved to Minawao.
"The violence in Cameroon's Far North is affecting tens of thousands of local residents too," UNHCR's Edwards said. As many people have moved in with relatives and host families it is difficult to ascertain the scale of the internal displacement. "UNHCR is working closely with the government of Cameroon and humanitarian partners to determine the scope and evaluate the situation on the ground, identify and locate the IDPs [internally displaced people] and to draw up a humanitarian response," he said.
In Chad, some 3,000 Nigerian refugees were registered as of the end of last year. A further 15,000 have fled into Chad since to escape attacks in and around the north-east Nigerian town of Bagakawa. Chad has called for the humanitarian community to support the government in dealing with the influx of Nigerian refugees.
Given the importance and proximity of Bagakawa to Chad as well as growing anxiety about the safety of the corridor supplying Chad's imports through Cameroon, the Chadian parliament approved the deployment of troops into Cameroon; Chadian forces are also said to be in Nigeria.
Refugees and returnees have been received in a number of sites in the Lake Chad area. But security is a major concern for all humanitarian agencies, and for the refugees – many of whom are said to be moving on to Niger. Many refugees remain unreachable in the various islands of the lake. UNHCR in Chad is working closely with the government, UN agencies and partners to provide assistance to the refugees that can be reached.
In total, the violence in north-eastern Nigeria has caused more than 157,000 people to flee into Niger (100,000), Cameroon (40,000) and Chad (17,000). Almost 1 million people are estimated to be internally displaced inside Nigeria, according to the country's National Emergency Management Agency.
Walaa (L) from northern Lebanon talks with Ahmed and Ibtissam (R) from Homs in Syria at UNHCR's community centre in the north of Lebanon.
UNHCR / D. Sleiman
A UNHCR centre eases tensions between Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts
WADI JAMOUS, Lebanon, April 7 (UNHCR) – In the town of Wadi Jamous in North Lebanon, a two-story concrete structure buzzes with the energy of mingling boys and girls, women and men from Lebanon and Syria.
Six short months after its establishment, this UNHCR community centre has turned into a daily meeting point for refugees from Syria and their Lebanese hosts who were longing for a space where hope can grow.
"You can sense some tension between Syrian refugees and locals in Akkar, but this centre has played a key role in bridging the growing gap and fostering dialogue between the members of the two communities," said Zaher Obeid, head of the Hadatha Association, who, along with the Danish Refugee Council, runs programmes at the centre.
With 1.2 million registered refugees, Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide – one in four of the population is a refugee. Refugees in some towns and villages now outnumber local residents, fuelling tensions as they compete for access to basic resources and services such as water, electricity, healthcare and education. Over 1,700 refugees live in Wadi Jamous, a town of some 8,000 people.
In the centre's playground, teenagers gather to showcase the products of the photography workshop they just completed. Razan, a 15-year-old girl from Halab, proudly explained one of her shots: a hand tightly gripping barbed wire.
"This is the hand of a Syrian refugee student I know who, despite the freezing cold a couple of months ago, insisted on going to school," she said. "This picture captures his hand gripping barbed wire as though clinging to life itself."
Her Lebanese friend captured snow resting on bare branches of a tree next to her house. "White is peace," she explained.
The centre's bustling hallways lead to classrooms where children and adults are learning sewing, hairdressing, English, literacy, computer and other subjects. "The youngest student in my class is seven and the oldest is 47," said the computer class teacher.
Literacy classes also brought together Maha, 40, from Syria, and Hayat, a 32 year-old Lebanese woman who instantly found things in common with her new friend.
"I felt that events in Maha's life mirrored events in mine and I was drawn to that," Hayat explained. "She lost her husband in the war and I happened to have lost mine. Grief might have triggered our friendship but also our thirst to change, to do something with our lives."
Maha echoed her sentiments: "Education is the light. I was able to find a job because of the classes I attended; having an education can really change your life."
Nearly 140 people attend skills-training and various recreational activities at the centre every day. Parents worried about their children come seeking advice; teenagers socialize and make plans; children play.
There are over 25 such centres across Lebanon. Some predate the crisis but most were established because of it, fostering a much-needed sense of community for both Syrians and Lebanese.
By Dana Sleiman in Wadi Jamous
Bangladeshi refugee Begum Ali and her oldest child, Ferdous, cook in their new restaurant in Budapest, where they have found security after a 20-year search for a safe home.
UNHCR / Zs.Palyi
Bangladeshi family cooks up success in Hungary – in any language
BUDAPEST, Hungary, April 10, 2015 (UNHCR) – Family conversation in the miniscule kitchen above the Bangladeshi restaurant in downtown Budapest sounds more like a UN debate than an exchange among close relatives.
"A client has just come in. Run down and take his order," 17-year-old Lutfa calls out to her Bangladeshi brother, Kalam, in Greek. Their mother, Begum, after whom the restaurant is named, talks to her husband in their mother tongue, Bengali, as she prepares tasty dishes – but relays commands to the children in Urdu. And 15-year-old Kalam turns to a visitor and obligingly translates the babble into Hungarian.
The family's 20-year trek over half the globe in search of safety accounts for their enviable ease with so many languages; they don't even appear to notice as they switch from one tongue to another.
"We are very happy to live in Hungary," says father Moshahid Ali. "Here we are safe, and people are so kind. After so many years of fleeing and wandering we want to stay here. This is why we opened our restaurant."
It's his investment in the future – and his gift of gratitude now that their odyssey has finally come to an end. They were recognized as refugees in Hungary in October, 2013 and opened the Begum All Modina restaurant some 15 months later. They're working on a shoestring with money borrowed from friends, so they're even stuck with the wrong name for their little place after the sign painter made a mistake on the desired name, "Al Modina."
And despite a slow start to their business, much is right about life in Hungary.
"Here I can go to school normally, I don't have to be afraid that policemen would beat me up or someone would stab me on the street, like in Athens," adds Kalam, giving some insight into what the family has suffered along the way.
Kalam, energetic, gregarious and always smiling, is the youngest of the three children of Moshahid, 46, and Begum, 41. She was eight months pregnant with Ferdous, their eldest child when the couple had to flee political violence that took the life of Moshahid's father and many other relatives in Bangladesh. Ferdous, Lutfa and Kalam were born in Pakistan, where – after a short stop in India -- the family stayed four years.
This explains why the parents address the children in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
But once again the five felt unsafe and fled to Iran, which proved no improvement. On to Turkey. Then Greece offered a bit of stability for nine years – and gave the children the language they feel most comfortable using among themselves, even though they also speak English and Hungarian.
In Athens, Begum, though illiterate, held down three cleaning jobs at once -- in a bank, a factory and a nightclub -- but still could not make ends meet. So once again, they hit the road, one that eventually led them to Hungary in February 2013.
Ferdous, now 18, and more reserved than Kalam, says he once was a good enough footballer to be approached in Athens by representatives of well-known football clubs. But his mother did not want him to gamble on an unpredictable sports career.
Dutifully, he took a job in a grocery store instead. These days, among other duties, he helps his parents buy – very frugally – spices, basmati rice and halal meat for the restaurant in a nearby shop run by a Pakistani immigrant.
"I have to put aside my dreams," says Ferdous. "I have to work and help my parents in the restaurant. I have to work and study, no time for football."
After nearly 20 years of living in fear and always moving on, finally getting refugee status in Hungary has changed everything for the close-knit family.
"It was the first time that we were granted refugee status since we had left Bangladesh," says Kalam, in stylish and nearly accent-free Hungarian. "It's an unbelievable feeling. Recently, we went for a school trip to Vienna, and it was fantastic that I could travel from one country to another with a passport like an ordinary tourist."
By Ernő Simon in Budapest, Hungary
Tarek relaxes with his mother, grandmother and a sister in Arsal, Lebanon. He has been able to resume his studies after fleeing Qusayr in Syria.
After hours classes let Syrian refugee children continue studies
ARSAL, Lebanon, January 13 (UNHCR) – When their home town of Qusayr came under siege last year and the whole family had to sleep rough in hastily dug bunkers to avoid the nightly bombardment, each morning Rabia dressed her two older children, aged 15 and 12, and sent them off to school.
It was a schedule that the 37-year-old mother kept to even with war planes roaring overhead. The children would run, often barefoot, and the teacher would send them home if the shelling became too intense, but Rabia kept them going.
Last November, the family arrived exhausted as refugees in Lebanon, after a fresh offensive in Syria's Qalamoun region drove them across the mountains and into the town of Arsal. The very next morning the two children spotted the only school bus in the mountainside town and chased it down, pleading to be let on board despite their fatigue.
Many Syrian children are missing school as a result of the almost three-year-long civil war. But some are missing it more than others. For refugee families like Rabia's, it has been the most important goal, more important she insists than a warm place to sleep, more important even than her children's security.
"We've lived in terror for three years. We've been cold for three years. But what I cannot bear is to have my kids without an education," she said one afternoon recently, adding: "We have lost everything from this war. Should our children lose their education as well?"
The family is now living in a single room in a mosque overlooking the snow-capped mountains along the Syrian border. It is cold. But Rabia says she does not care about that.
"What are the consequences of war? Destruction and ignorance. I don't want my children to be a part of this. I don't want to give up because of a war," said Rabia. "I am doing everything I can so that they are not illiterate and so that they can continue to learn."
That spirit has recently met with some success. Rabia's oldest son, 15-year-old Tarek, and his brother, managed to enrol in school for the first time since fleeing Qusayr. It is part of a new programme in Lebanon designed to enrol more Syrian children in school.
The two boys are taking advantage of a second shift, funded by UNHCR, in which children begin their school day after regular school hours. In the town of Arsal, where half the people are now Syrian refugees, it's a way to accommodate the influx. Even with the new changes, more than one half of Syrian children in Lebanon are still not in school.
Rabia's struggle to educate her children, against the odds, underscores the difficulties Syrian families face as a result of the Syria crisis, which began in March 2011, and how, despite those obstacles, many are looking to their children's future regardless.
"I was never able to learn to read," Tarek's grandmother, Hasnaa, who is about 70 years old, explained. She grew up on a farm in northern Syria. While her parents sent her four brothers to school, she and her three sisters stayed home. Illiterate, she decided that her own daughters would not suffer the same fate. "It wasn't fair but those were different times," she said.
Hasnaa hid her illiteracy from her own nine children, pretending to understand their homework assignments. She put all of them, eight girls and one boy, through secondary school, despite losing her husband at a young age and having to raise them on her own. Five went on to higher education.
Her daughter Rabia got a First in Agriculture. "Now they can be independent," says Hasnaa of her daughters, most of whom are still in Syria. "They can provide for their own families. And send them to school as well."
Like mother like daughter. Rabia's son Tarek admits to being "a little" afraid when he was running to school last year back in Qusayr. One day he sat exams and got home just as the bombs started following along the street he took from school. His mother says that Tarek's father was more afraid for him than he was for himself.
Tarek says he wants to be an IT engineer when he grows up. There is calmness to his demeanour, despite all that he has been through. He is a quiet boy. But like his mother and grandmother, he knows what he wants.
Etel Fagbohoun, a UNHCR nutrition officer, checks the condition of Ransom. The food shortages are affecting the health of the little boy and other children.
UNHCR / P. Rulashe / May 2014
Malnutrition a serious threat as food shortages impact Maban refugee camps
DORO REFUGEE CAMP, South Sudan, May 12 (UNHCR) – As food shortages start to affect refugee camps in South Sudan, it is the youngest who are suffering most, like Ransom Wapi. The four-year-old's stiff gait, protruding belly and fluffy rust-coloured hair are telltale signs that he is not well.
He is one of 1,200 children diagnosed as malnourished in Doro, one of four camps housing 125,000 refugees in Maban, a county of Upper Nile state. "The ongoing food crisis does not augur well for these children," says Etel Fagbohoun, a UNHCR nutrition officer in Doro, "We cannot keep malnutrition at bay with a pipeline that only allows in a trickle of food at a time," he adds.
The flow of food and other aid has been severely affected by insecurity and fighting between South Sudan government and rebel forces along the main land access routes to this isolated area, and this in turn has led to depleted warehouse stocks and prevented normal prepositioning of food.
UNHCR and the World Food Programme have called on the rival sides to give them safe access to the camps before the rains come so that they can truck in vital aid for the refugees, who have fled from conflict in neighbouring Sudan since independence in 2011. The problems in getting access led to reduced food rations in March and April.
Fagbohoun, who visits children in their homes to check on their health, says the food shortages are affecting the health of many young people in Doro. Malnutrition rates in the camp have risen from 12 per cent in February to more than 18 per cent in March, while in the other three camps they have so far remained below the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
As the nutrition expert makes his mid-morning rounds, he spots little Ransom walking lethargically towards Fagbohoun and his UNHCR visitor as other, lively, children play nearby. The boy was recently discharged from a health programme that provides malnourished children with special nutrition products and monitors them closely for progress.
"Ransom has been enrolled in the therapeutic feeding programmes several times. He seems to have suffered another relapse," explains Fagbohoun. "It is likely he is not receiving proper care at home, which is not unusual."
Ransom is in his grandma's care as his mother, Yassinah, has gone to the market to sell firewood collected from the bush. Fagbohoun sends a driver to fetch Yassinah, who eventually arrives looking exhausted. She is heavily pregnant with her sixth child. Her youngest child, aged one, crawls into her lap. "I have taken Ransom to all the health clinics, but he still looks like this," she says in despair. "I don't know what to do anymore."
She tells Fagbohoun that the family only eats once a day now – sorghum and lentils at around 3pm. She adds that for most of March and April, she fed her family on broth made from the bitter leaves of the lolop tree. Most refugee families have resorted to foraging for edible roots and leaves to supplement their meagre rations.
Burdened with countless household chores, including cooking, fetching water and firewood, and foraging for extra food, mothers like Yassinah find it difficult to attend properly to the needs of sick children. She has five children, all aged under 10 years.
Meanwhile, without the food and nutrients his little body needs, Ransom's condition is not improving. Fagbohoun has him readmitted to the therapeutic feeding programme. He will receive special nutrition supplies, and have a bi-weekly check-up to monitor his progress. In tandem, his family will receive nutrition products to mitigate the risk that they might consume Ransom's supplies.
"Food shortages are exacerbating the fragile health of children like Ransom," says Fagbohoun. "They struggle to recover, and will continue to be malnourished and diseased if we cannot ensure delivery of food aid without obstruction and delay."
Meanwhile, the first rains have arrived and the window for bringing in aid by road is almost shut. Expensive airlifts might be the only answer until the dry season returns.
By Pumla Rulashe in Doro Camp, South Sudan
On the fourth and final leg of her regional tour, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie spent the weekend in Iraq. In Baghdad, she visited Iraqi families who had been displaced twice: first to Syria to escape the war in Iraq, and now back to Iraq.
Angelina Jolie urges support for Syrian refugees and Iraqi returnees
DOMIZ REFUGEE CAMP, Iraq, September 16 (UNHCR) – UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie today hailed the Iraqi government's willingness to host Syrian refugees fleeing violence and said she hoped all Syrians seeking asylum in Iraq would be welcomed.
"I want to highlight the noble efforts of the Iraqi government and the people of Iraq to support Syrian refugees," said Jolie. "At this juncture, it is critical that Iraq receives urgent international support and continues to welcome refugees across its borders."
In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Saturday, Jolie met with senior government officials and spent time with Iraqis, until recently refugees in Syria, who have returned to Iraq after fleeing violence in their places of former refuge. She spent today meeting Syrian refugees in the Domiz camp in northern Iraq. She also met officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Interior Minister Karim Sinjari as well as the governors of Erbil and Dohuk. Many of the officials she met were former refugees. "We know how it feels," one official told Jolie.
In her meetings Saturday in Baghdad with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari and the Minister of Displacement and Migration Dindar Najman Shafeeq and on Sunday with Kurdistan Regional Government officials, Jolie pledged further UNHCR support for the government in receiving and hosting additional Syrian refugees as their numbers rapidly increase.
This was her fourth and final stop of a tour of countries neighbouring Syria, where more than 260,000 Syrian refugees have been registered since the conflict began in March 2011.
Earlier this week, Jolie visited Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. They both pledged continued support and emphasized the life-saving importance of maintaining open borders and hosting Syrians in need.
This is Jolie's fourth visit to Iraq. Some 1.3 million Iraqis remain displaced in their country and the government has made it a priority to improve their standard of living and find solutions for them through voluntary return to their places of origin or through local integration.
"Combined with the new influx of Syrian refugees and the sudden return of over 30,000 of their own citizens, the complexity of the situation and the challenges for this country just emerging from conflict cannot be overstated," Jolie said.
Asylum-seekers in a holding centre on Greece's Samos Island. People wishing to apply for asylum can be detained without an individual assessment or without alternatives to detention being considered.
UNHCR / A. D'Amato
UNHCR welcomes asylum process reforms in Greece, but more needs to be done
GENEVA, January 30 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency on Friday commended Greece for reforming its asylum process during tough economic and political times for the southern European nation, but noted that more needed to be done.
In a report based on an assessment carried out in the last quarter of 2014, UNHCR also recommended that other European Union (EU) nations should still not return asylum-seekers to Greece, extending advice first given in 2008. As well as applying to returns carried out bilaterally between countries, the recommendation also applies to transfers done under the EU's Dublin regulation – which determines the country in which an asylum claim is processed.
Over the past year, Greece saw a dramatic increase in refugee and migrant arrivals by sea. In all, around 43,500 people arrived there across the Mediterranean, a 280 per cent increase from 2013. About 60 per cent were from Syria, but there were also substantial numbers of Afghans, Somalis and Eritreans. Many move on to other EU states.
But problems remain in Greece's asylum system despite reforms. These problems include difficulties in accessing the asylum procedure, a continuing backlog of unresolved cases under the old procedure, risk of arbitrary detention, inadequate reception conditions, lack of identification and support for individuals with specific needs, push-backs of people at the border, concerns over integration prospects and support for refugees, and xenophobia and racist violence.
Access to asylum remains challenging in part due to a lack of regional Asylum Service offices for processing claims and a shortage of Asylum Service staff. An individual who wants to seek asylum and is unable to register or fails to register promptly may be at risk of return and, potentially, refoulement – meaning being sent to a country where his or her life or liberty could be in danger.
Despite the efforts of the authorities to process a backlog of some 37,000 appeals under the old procedure, the backlog remains. People wishing to apply for asylum can be detained without an individual assessment or without alternatives to detention being considered. Others applying while in detention remain there at least until their asylum application is registered, which can take months.
Accommodation for asylum-seekers is scarce and services insufficient. This is of particular concern for vulnerable individuals, such as unaccompanied and separated children and single women. While national legislation stipulates that special consideration and priority should be given to the identification, assistance, and protection of these groups, this has been difficult in practice. NGOs managing the existing reception centres for asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children are underfunded and there is a real risk of services being discontinued.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the agency was also concerned by reports of border practices that might place refugees and migrants at greater risk. "We continue to document accounts of informal returns [push-backs] at the Greek-Turkish land and sea borders," he said.
Tightened control measures that have been in place since 2010 have resulted in decreased numbers of people trying to enter through the Greek-Turkish land border, while entries by sea have increased.
Integration prospects and related support for refugees are practically non-existent. Many are marginalized or excluded in the absence of concrete integration measures. In addition, refugees face considerable difficulties with family unification, a right that is denied altogether to those provided with subsidiary protection.
Finding accommodation is particularly difficult. There are no specific facilities for social housing or any alternative forms of support. Moreover, there is no targeted national strategy to promote employment of refugees, and, as a result, many face destitution.
Protection and integration is further impeded by xenophobia and racist violence against migrants and refugees. For example, the Racist Violence Recording Network, an umbrella network of civil society organizations supported by UNHCR, recorded 65 incidents in the first nine months of 2014, involving physical attacks in public places against migrants and refugees because of the colour of their skin and ethnicity.
The actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher, as only a small fraction of them are reported. While the Greek authorities have adopted a series of reforms and actions to record, prosecute and prevent such crimes more effectively, people continue to be subject to verbal and physical abuse that remains unaddressed.
"UNHCR is ready to continue working with the Greek authorities to address these challenges and encourages EU member states and institutions to continue to extend their support to Greece," UNHCR's Spindler said.
To read the report, go to www.refworld.org/docid/54cb3af34.html
A Sudanese refugee with her child on one of the buses that moved volunteers from the flood-prone Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps in western Ethiopia.
UNHCR / S. Momodu
UNHCR begins relocation of 50,000 South Sudan refugees in Ethiopia before the rains come
GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, March 17 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency this week began relocating more than 50,000 South Sudanese refugees from flood-prone areas of western Ethiopia ahead of the start of the rainy season in late April.
The refugees are being moved from the Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps in the Gambella region. Last year, in August, both camps were severely hit by floodwaters during unusually heavy seasonal rains, which caused the Baro River to burst its banks.
The first group of 377 refugees left in a convoy of 11 vehicles with a security escort on Monday. The refugees received high energy biscuits and water as they boarded buses for the 300-kilometre-long journey, which takes about eight hours.
"I'm extremely excited to be relocating to a camp where we won't fear that, come the rainy season, our houses will be flooded again," said one refugee, 26-year-old Nyawour, a mother of two.
More than 51,300 refugees from flood-prone areas in the two camps will be relocated, most of them (about 48,430) from Leitchuor. While the new Pugnido camp, which currently hosts nearly 56,000 South Sudanese refugees, has been extended to receive the refugees from Nip Nip, an additional camp was also opened over the weekend. The new camp, Jewi, is located some 18 kms from the regional capital Gambella and will host the refugees from Leitchuor.
"Our plan is to relocate all willing refugees in a safe and dignified manner," said Angele Djohossou, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Gambella, adding that the strategy also includes the development of projects aimed at ensuring peaceful co-existence between refugees who opt to remain and the host community.
The camps in Leitchuor and Nip Nip were established last year when tens of thousands of South Sudanese fled to Ethiopia's Gambella region, escaping the violence that had erupted in mid-December 2013 in the world's youngest nation. An additional new site is also being developed to accommodate the larger group of refugees from Leitchuor and the first refugees are expected to be transferred to that camp early next month.
Finding the land with the right conditions to set up another refugee camp has been a huge challenge, as several sites that had been identified immediately after last year's rainy season were subsequently declared unsuitable. More land is still needed to accommodate the new arrivals from South Sudan.
UNHCR is undertaking the relocation exercise in collaboration with the Ethiopian government and other organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, which is transporting the refugees.
Some 2 million people have been uprooted by the violence in South Sudan since December 2013. Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced inside the country and more than half a million across the border into neighbouring countries, most of them to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is Africa's largest refugee-hosting country with more than 670,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, followed by South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. This includes more than 250,000 South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella region, of whom more than 194,000 have arrived since mid-December 2013.
By Sulaiman Momodu in Gambella, Ethiopia
Fatima fills out forms at the UNHCR office in Damascus after being awarded a scholarship to study medicine under a UNHCR higher education programme funded by Belgium and Italy.
UNHCR / B. Diab
Higher education programme helps refugees in Syria continue studies
DAMASCUS, Syria, December 22 (UNHCR) – Excelling at high school is no easy task for teenagers. But for Fatima, an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee student living in Syria, it has been harder than most.
Amid the escalating crisis, Fatima studied for 12 hours every day, from 6am to 6pm, trying to avoid the power cuts. Her hard work paid off when she scored 94.5 per cent on the public high school exam – the second highest score among all refugee students in Syria. "While studying, the only light that was guaranteed was the sunlight every day," she recalls.
Fatima's mother, Sulafa, feared that her daughter was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. "The pressure was immense, especially during the days prior to the exam," she says. "But she gathered her courage to sit for the exams and she did a great job, and we are very proud of her."
Now, with the help of a UNHCR higher education programme, Fatima has found her way to study medicine at the University of Damascus. She hopes that one day she can use her skills to help her fellow Iraqis live a better life. "If it wasn't for UNHCR's scholarship, I would never have been able to make it to college," she says.
Fatima's scholarship also means that she will not be compelled to register remotely in a college in Iraq, unlike her siblings, who must make the dangerous trip twice a year to sit exams.
The higher education programme for refugee students living in Syria has helped hundreds of refugee students go to college since it was launched in 1999. It was funded by the German government as part of UNHCR's Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee programme, or DAFI. It is now funded by Belgium and Italy using the same scholarship model.
Rima Debsi, a senior UNHCR programme assistant, says the programme has helped in changing the lives of refugee youth and opened new job opportunities for them. "This enables them to support their families financially and rebuild their future which they have created with their hard work, persistence and determination," she said.
Fatima, meanwhile, hopes that one day soon she can return home and live in peace, harmony and prosperity. For now, she is focusing on rebuilding that brighter future – one hopefully for everyone.
By Firas Al-Khateeb in Damascus, Syria
Many of my pictures explore people and their lives.
How nice of her to give me a picture with pzazz.
Congolese refugee Masika tends to a bubbling stew in her restaurant in Ethiopia's Sherkole camp.
International Women's Day 2015: Former Kinshasa cabbie earns a crust feeding refugees and aid workers
SHERKOLE CAMP, Ethiopia, March 6 (UNHCR) – Every morning, just before 4am, Masika Basemé-Jeanne reaches for the snooze button on her mobile phone alarm. She'd love to continue dreaming of her former life with her husband and driving her taxi around Kinshasa, but she knows there are 1,500 loaves of bread to be baked.
The 47-year-old Congolese lives in Sherkole refugee camp, western Ethiopia, arriving a little over two years ago. Uprooted from a happy life in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), she and her family had ended up in the North Kivu province town of Butembo in 2012.
But she went on the run again in 2013 after her husband, perceived to be a human rights activist, was killed. Masika made her way via Uganda and Kenya to Sherkole, one of three refugee camps around the town of Assosa. She lives there with her mother and five children.
"I wanted to go far, far away," she says. "But when I arrived in Sherkole, I didn't have a lot of money for me and my kids. I looked for jobs, applied for jobs but I felt no-one could help me, so that's why I set up my small restaurant," she adds, perched on a bench in the eatery.
In those tough, early weeks and months, Masika struggled to survive. She kept half her wheat ration to feed her family and sold the rest to buy meat and vegetables to prepare food from a small stall in the camp. With time and experience, she became more confident and even established credit lines with the local butchers to help keep her nascent business afloat.
Masika's first big break came a year ago, when the International Rescue Committee asked her to provide food for 150 people at their International Women's Day event in the camp. It was the biggest job she had ever done, but the day was a great success and led to contracts with UNHCR and other agencies, in line with their support for income-generation projects.
Her second break came late last year when another UNHCR partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council, gave 6,000 Ethiopian birrs (about US$300) to Masika and three partners to help expand the business. With the money, they bought stocks of flour, oil and yeast and built a Sudanese-style oven behind a new, bigger, restaurant.
Every day, she bakes 1,500 small loaves of bread for sale, at one birr each, in the restaurant, local market and around the camp. In the restaurant, which Masika runs with her family, the menu is simple: beef, rice and beans for 20 birrs or fish, vegetables and wheat ugali (a starchy staple) for 30 birrs. "Everybody likes it," she insists, with a big smile. She also sells vegetables from a stall.
Masika's clients include UN staff and aid workers looking for a tasty lunch after a hard morning's work as well as refugees with a bit of disposable income. She also lets some people pay on credit, mindful of the kindness she received during the tough early days in Sherkole camp.
But despite the popularity of her restaurant, Masika admits that it is sometimes tough for her and her partners to keep things afloat. Often she can go three days without selling anything and even Monday's market day can be disappointing, but she is a very determined woman.
"We get by, but it's not easy," she says. "There are limited means for everyone in the camps. I often wish that someone could open a training centre for young people in the camp so they could learn skills like my daughter, who braids hair," Masika adds as she stirs a pot of bubbling beef stew for lunch clients.
Mallory Mroz, head of the UNHCR team in Sherkole, said that as International Women's Day approached, "Masika's persistence and ambition is an inspiration to us all." He also noted that self-sufficiency restores the dignity of individual refugees and empowers communities to rebuild their lives.
Masika clear thrives on hard work and on helping others. Aside from running a business and cooking every day, she is also looking after three orphans, aged three, five and seven, while their elder siblings are in Addis Ababa for medical reasons.
As she makes the most out of a tough situation, Masika also thinks of the future and dreams of "a life where I and my family can all live together in a big French-speaking city." But, for now, those dreams must end each morning as the familiar digital beeps of her alarm wake her at the dawn of a new day.
By Andy Needham in Sherkole Camp, Ethiopia
Egyptian plastic surgeon Amr Mabrouk examines a happy Judy al-Khatib. The doctor provided free treatment for the nine-year-old burns victim.
UNHCR / S. Nelson
Picture at an exhibition opens a door for young Syrian burns victim
CAIRO, Egypt, February 23 (UNHCR) – A picture at an exhibition has helped to change the life of Judy El Khatib, a nine-year-old Syrian girl who had been unable to move her right arm since suffering bad burn injuries four years ago.
The young refugee suffered the debilitating injury in Damascus not long after the Syria crisis erupted in March 2011. She was playing in the kitchen when an explosion rocked the family home and knocked a pot of boiling water off the stove and all over her arm.
As the security situation deteriorated in Syria, the family sought refuge in Egypt. Judy hoped she could get help and the family approached UNHCR, which has a limited budget to help people in need of medical care.
But the refugee agency was unable to do much because the injuries on Judy's scarred arm were classified as only "cosmetic," and funds were needed for more pressing cases. The young girl feared she would end up having to live with disability for the rest of her life.
Then fate intervened in December last year. The UN refugee agency organized a photo exhibition in Cairo about refugees in Egypt, including their daily life and challenges. Included in "Refugee Voices in Egypt: Refuge, Resilience and Exile," was a photo of Judy with a caption telling her poignant story and struggle to get the medical care her family could not afford.
One influential visitor to the gallery was very moved and told UNHCR that she would like to help. She contacted Amr Mabrouk, a highly respected plastic surgeon at Cairo's Ain Shams University and he agreed to treat Judy for free.
"We were extremely happy, grateful, surprised, hopeful, anxious – and worried," her mother, Ola, recalled. After examining Judy in mid-December, Dr. Mabrouk, told her parents that she would need surgery as soon as possible.
In the last week of December, she was taken to the El Demerdash Hospital where the doctor carried out surgery aimed at helping Judy move her right arm without the skin contracting. The hospital also offered its services for free.
The stitches were removed in early January and Dr. Mabrouk was happy with the results. "Judy can move her arm freely now; it was a successful surgery," he said. "We are very happy," added Ola.
Hany Fares, a UNHCR health officer, thanked all involved in helping Judy regain mobility, while noting that she would need further surgery and time to recover from the trauma. "Suffering from a burn injury is a traumatic experience that has a profound effect on the development of a child," he said, while adding that "reconstructive surgery benefits the recovery process."
The photo exhibition featuring Scott Nelson's photograph of Judy has been displayed at galleries in Cairo and Alexandria. There are currently some 190,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt, of which 136,000 are from Syria. They live predominantly in urban areas, including Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Damietta.
By Nahla Samaha and Nawar Rifaah in Cairo, Egypt
Syrian refugees remove snow from their shelters at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon during a blizzard earlier today.
UNHCR / A. McConnell
Refugees caught in heavy snow as storms lash Lebanon and Jordan
GENEVA, January 7 (UNHCR) – Thousands of refugees across Lebanon and Jordan have been struggling to keep warm and protect their shelters this week as severe winter storms bring plummeting temperatures, heavy snow, strong winds and lashing rain to the region.
UNHCR field staff say Lebanon's Bekaa Valley was blanketed in snow on Wednesday morning, cutting off roads and affecting tens of thousands of refugees – many of whom live in makeshift shelters in more than 850 informal settlements set up in vacant lots, abandoned buildings, garages, sheds and on farmland.
Some refugees are managing to get through the storm to UNHCR's registration centre in the town of Zahle, where they are being processed by staff. Others spent the day huddling around heaters or scraping snow from the roofs of their shelters to stave off collapse. There are reports of damaged homes in informal settlements, where makeshift shelters have collapsed under the weight of snow.
Conditions have been particularly bad in Arsal and its outskirts, where altitudes range from 1,300 to 1,400 metres. Six emergency shelters have been set up where UNHCR partners are ready to receive families leaving tented sites, and local municipalities are clearing roads. Across the Bekaa Valley, UNHCR and partners are working to provide people with materials to repair shelters. Plans are also under way to replace blankets, mattresses and other items that have been damaged.
UNHCR began its winter aid programme in Lebanon last October, focusing on helping the most vulnerable refugees with cash, stoves and blankets. Winter support also includes fuel vouchers to help people living above 500 metres, including many of those now blanketed by snow in the Bekaa Valley. Plastic sheeting, wood and basic tools to help keep accommodation well insulated have been distributed to almost 250,000 people living in unfinished buildings and informal settlements.
While much winter aid has been provided, UNHCR remains concerned. "Despite our best efforts, the situation in Lebanon remains precarious for refugees given the extremely poor conditions in which they live and the scattered nature of the population," UNHCR Representative to Lebanon Ninette Kelley said. "It is a constant challenge to ensure that refugees across more than 1,700 localities remain safe and warm throughout the winter months and have sufficient resources to withstand severe storms."
Elsewhere in the country, bad weather is affecting refugees living on Mount Lebanon, in Beirut and in the north and south of the country. There are reports that more than 100 tents have been blown over by strong winds in the south of the country.
UNHCR's 600 staff across five offices in Lebanon are working through the storms, although road closures are affecting some operations. The refugee agency continues to work with partners and local municipalities to map needs and coordinate responses. In preparation for the storm, UNHCR reinforced its contingency stocks of fuel, blankets, wood and shelter materials and put inter-agency teams on standby for emergency responses.
Meanwhile in Jordan, snow began falling on Za'atari camp around midday on Wednesday following earlier snowfall in Jerash, Irbid and Ajloun as well as other locations with high numbers of refugees. The capital, Amman, is also receiving snow.
In preparation for the icy conditions brought by storm Huda, UNHCR has started distributing 20,000 blankets to refugees from Iraq, Somalia and Sudan across Jordan. On Wednesday, UNHCR also distributed 29,000 blankets donated by the United Arab Emirates to Syrian refugees, many of whom live in precarious conditions and are ill prepared for the sub-zero temperatures.
UNHCR's registration centres in Jordan remain open despite the bad weather, and UNHCR's helpline for refugees is fully functioning.
In Azraq and Za'atari camps, a campaign informing refugees of looming storms is under way, and advice provided on safe use of heaters and stoves. Additional blankets are also on their way to Azraq. Emergency shelters are in place in Za'atari, where 20 per cent of the population still lives in tents, although there has been no move to these shelters yet.
To help vulnerable refugees living in urban and rural areas survive the winter, UNHCR has given a winter cash grant to 27,000 refugee families to cover essential needs such as heating costs.
UNHCR on Wednesday, meanwhile, deployed more than 60 field staff to monitor the situation in sites around Jordan, address the concerns of refugees and organize distribution of additional aid where needed.
Just three days old, Emmanuel is both an orphan and a refugee. His grandmother and two siblings are unable to care for him.
UNHCR / F. Noy / November 2012
Congolese child starts life as an orphan and refugee
KISORO, Uganda, 15 November (UNHCR) – Emmanuel has had a terrible start in life: aged just three days old, he is already an orphan and a refugee in an area that lacks any sign of a lasting peace.
The toddler was born days after his mother crossed into Uganda's Kisoro district to escape some of the latest fighting in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province. But the exhausted 39-year-old woman died in childbirth and Emmanuel was sent immediately to Potters Village, a Church-linked child crisis centre in Kisoro.
Many of the more than 40,000 refugees who have fled waves of renewed fighting in North Kivu province since April are children. But few are so young and in such a tragic situation as Emmanuel, whose father and five-year-old brother became separated from the family during their flight and have not been seen since.
Emmanuel at least still has two young sisters (one aged 10 years, and the other 18 months) and a grandmother, Madarina, but the old lady is unable to look after the boy and he has been classified as a person of special concern to the UN refugee agency. "He lost his two parents and UNHCR has to look out for him. We are somehow his parents," said Gabriel Katende, a UNHCR field officer in Kisoro.
"I can take care of the 18-month-old baby [Emmanuel's sister] if I am given milk, but I can't manage the newborn," said Madarina, who was happy that Emmanuel was at least safe and being looked after. "If he had stayed with me, he would have died," the 65-year-old added.
All things considered, it's a wonder his mother made it to Uganda alive and in time to give birth in a proper hospital in Kisoro town, rather than in the bush. It was a long and hazardous journey over hilly, forested country from their town, Kitchanga
Madarina retraces the journey in her mind. "We were in the house at night when we heard gunfire," she said, adding that her pregnant daughter left with the two girls, aged 10 years and 18 months. The son was left behind with a grandfather because his mother and grandmother could not manage him as well – his whereabouts remain unknown.
The grandmother left the next day. "I met again with my daughter in the bush and we walked for nine hours through the forest before we reached Itongo, where we got a lift by car to the border."
A week later, her daughter gave birth, but the journey had proved too much of an ordeal and she died. She was buried in Kisoro after a small funeral. 'The 10-year-old asked about her mother and I had to explain to her that she had died," Madarina said.
The tragedy continues for Emmanuel; soon he will be all alone because his grandmother and sisters are due to leave for a refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, almost 350 kilometres north of Kisoro. The settlement was opened in April to cope with the fresh cross-border influx and it currently provides shelter to 26,000 Congolese refugees.
But at least Emmanuel is in good hands at Potters Village, which cares for abandoned babies, teenage mothers and destitute pre-school children. "We decided that Potter's Village is the best place where Emmanuel can find temporary refuge before a long-term solution is found," explained UNHCR's Katende.
Jenny Green, a priest and director of Potters Village, said the baby boy was the youngest child in the centre. He arrived aged three hours. "He was a bit little, but not dangerously little. We fed him and I spent the night with him," explained Emily Davies, a volunteer paediatric nurse. "Potters Village is about keeping the family together. We are trying to see how best to work that out for Emmanuel," she added.
Reverend Green said the best solution for Emmanuel and any young child would be to be with family. "We hope to keep in touch with his grandma. When the situation calms down in Congo, we will see with UNHCR if there is an uncle or an aunt that is willing to take care of Emmanuel."
The Potters Village director said there would be many challenges trying to find a lasting solution for the baby and his surviving relatives with the help of UNHCR. "But we will try," she vowed. "In the long term, if he stays here we will try to find a foster family."
By Céline Schmitt in Kisoro, Uganda
Shahad smiles among new friends. The young refugee lost two siblings and was injured when her home in Syria came under attack.
UNHCR / E. Dorfman / June 2013
Shahad once lived "the best life," now the four-year-old Syrian girl needs help
BEIRUT, Lebanon, June 7 (UNHCR) – Four-year-old Shahad, whose name means "the sweetest part of the honey," was born in a village near the city of Hama in western Syria. Her father, Yehia, is a farmer who raised wheat and barley. Before the war, the family had, he recalls, "the best life."
But last September, fighting levelled their three-storey family home. Shahad's 10-year-old brother, Jasim, and baby sister, Aya, who was not yet two, were killed, along with five other family members. Rescuers pulled Shahad from the rubble, her face lacerated and silky curls torn from her skull.
The family rushed her to a local clinic, where an overworked medic put in stitches and hastily sent the family on their way. There was no time, Yehia says, even to properly clean the wound. The whole family fled for the border. On the way, they were stopped at dozens of checkpoints, where they feared being detained and imprisoned. Seventeen hours later, after midnight, they arrived in Lebanon with nothing but a suitcase.
Shahad is among more than 1.6 million Syrians, about half of them children, who have been forced from their homes into neighbouring countries by the two-year civil war. By the end of 2013, if fighting continues, the number of refugees from the Syrian conflict is forecast to reach a staggering 3.45 million.
Inside and outside the country, about half of the country's population could be in need of aid by year's end. Earlier today in Geneva, to meet that need, the UN launched the biggest humanitarian appeal in history. The aim is to raise billions of dollars in supplementary funds to provide life-saving assistance to people like Shahad.
The aid is already targeting the most vulnerable, including the estimated 75 per cent of the total who, like Shahad's family, are not living in camps but in urban areas. Battered infrastructure and overburdened host communities in neighbouring countries mean that refugee families like Shahad's face an uncertain future. Hundreds of thousands have survived on their savings. Now they are running out of ways to cope on their own. If more assistance from the UN and its partners isn't found, these survivors could increasingly fall prey to exploitation, hunger and disease.
In neighbouring Lebanon, Shahad and her family have managed to escape the war. But their life is a long way from normal. They are living in a half-constructed university building in the southern city of Sidon. They share the building with more than 650 other refugees.
The family registered with UNHCR last year and received, as a result, basic supplies such as mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils and hygiene items. Aid agencies have provided electricity to the building, installed outdoor latrines and ensured drinking water. Refugees are receiving food vouchers as well.
But the family faces severe challenges. Yehia is trying to find work as a day labourer to earn extra money to buy food, but jobs are few. Every morning Yehia rises at five to stand by the side of the road hoping to get chosen for a day's manual work, worth the equivalent of US$10. He says he sometimes goes without meals so his two surviving children can eat.
He wants to send Shahad's older sister to school but can't afford the transport (the Lebanese government, with UNHCR support, will pay tuition). He was recently joined by his father, who has diabetes and a heart condition, a brother, who is recovering from a shrapnel wound to his leg, and his sister, whose husband and son-in-law were both killed. They all depend on him. His wife, Fatima, speaks little and is still grieving for the loss of her children.
Shahad and her sister Raghad, aged six, suffer from nightmares. If the war continues, and what little assistance the family is receiving runs out, Yehia says he does not know how the family will survive. He worries about the effect the war is having on his children's future. "They have seen war," he says sadly. "They have seen… everything." Yehia, like many fathers, is doing what he can to keep the surviving members of his family alive. But he will not be able to do it alone.
By Andrew Purvis in Beirut, Lebanon
To watch Shahad's story: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnpN-WHoPqo
Angele, aged 13, wants to be a teacher. She lives in Saria village in central Côte d'Ivoire. Originally from Burkina Faso, her parents were never registered at birth and were hence at risk of statelessness. They managed to get late birth certificates and now have consular cards from Burkina Faso.
UNHCR / H. Caux
West African leaders pledge to work together to reduce statelessness
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, February 25 (UNHCR) – West African nations pledged this week at a high-level meeting in Côte d'Ivoire to step up efforts aimed at resolving the situation of hundreds of thousands of stateless people in the region.
At the end of the ministerial gathering, representatives of 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, on Wednesday adopted a declaration on the prevention, reduction and elimination of statelessness.
The declaration contains 25 commitments and highlights the need for ECOWAS states to gather concrete information on the causes of statelessness and the number and profile of stateless people in a region where there are at least 750,000 people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness, including 700,000 in Côte d'Ivoire.
It stresses that every child should acquire a nationality at birth and that all foundlings should be considered nationals of the state in which they are found. It also focuses on the need to ensure that men and women have equal rights to acquire, change and retain their nationality and pass on nationality to their children.
The text stresses the importance of protecting stateless people by restoring their dignity and, in particular, by providing them with a legal identity and documentation. It invites member states who have not yet done so to accede, as soon as possible, to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
"I am convinced that only true cooperation will considerably reduce statelessness in our countries," conference host, President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire, told delegates. "Together, we can find solutions inspired by the international treaties to put an end to this plight in 10 years," he added.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, in closing remarks, welcomed West Africa's commitment to ending statelessness, while noting that "ultimately, the concept of 'belonging' goes beyond legal texts and identity documents, and also requires political will to build tolerance and acceptance, and the social and human space for all members of society to be recognized, to contribute and to belong."
The conference, gathering ministers from 15 ECOWAS countries alongside representatives of international and regional organizations, officials of UN and other international humanitarian agencies, civil society, human rights activists and academics, was jointly organized by UNHCR and ECOWAS. It was preceded by two days of preparatory meetings.
The conference fits in with UNHCR's "#IBelong" campaign launched last year to end statelessness around the globe by 2024. There are believed to be more than 10 million stateless people around the world.
For many, the lack of a nationality makes it difficult to access the rights enjoyed by citizens, including freedom of movement and access to education, health care and employment. They are also vulnerable to discrimination and abuse as they have no legal existence.
"Having a nationality is something most people take for granted – but to those who do not have one, or who cannot prove it, this lack often sentences them to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair," Guterres stressed. "Stateless people are like ghosts, forced to lead their lives in the shadows," added UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks in an address.
Read the Declaration here
Gennady, an architect and graphic artist, tries on donated winter coats in the distribution centre of a local NGO in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine. He fled to Kharkiv and rejoined his wife after being set free in an exchange of prisoners. After his release he had only the clothes he was wearing when detained in the Luhansk area.
UNHCR / E. Simon
Generosity of Ukrainians helps displaced face winter cold
KHARKIV, Ukraine, February 11 (UNHCR) – In a room piled to the ceiling with clothes, a bearded man with a grey ponytail is trying on winter coats. Gennady, an architect and graphic artist in his early fifties, is in desperate need of something warm after escaping his hometown in eastern Ukraine and arriving in this frigid city in the summer clothes he was wearing in August when held captive for several weeks.
"I do not have any warm clothes, nothing for the winter at all," he says as his wife, Antonina, helps him try on a coat. "Even this thin jacket I am wearing now was lent to me by our friends who generously took us into their apartment here in Kharkiv," he explains.
Gennady says his troubles began when anti-government forces accused him of giving food and water to Ukrainian soldiers in their village near Luhansk, one of the central battlegrounds in the east. He suspects one of his neighbours informed on him.
What happened next was a nightmare. He says he was held in a dark cellar for 45 days, where he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. He lost two teeth and says he suffered broken ribs as well. "I remember everything as if I were still in that cellar," Gennady says. "I still am not myself. My wife tells me that I shout every night in my sleep."
Finally freed in a prisoner exchange, he lost no time in leaving Luhansk. In Kharkiv he was reunited with Antonina, a former prosecutor who fled when Gennady was arrested. By the time he got here, the weather had turned bitter and the family had no money to buy any winter clothes, let alone a warm winter coat.
So Gennady made his way to Stantsiya Kharkiv, a local NGO that runs a distribution centre where volunteers are dwarfed by mountains of donated clothing. On a typical day, displaced people choose clothing, food and even children's toys as generous civilians make their way through the throng with bags of new donations.
Private citizens are playing a vital role in helping more than 1 million people displaced inside Ukraine to survive the bitterly cold winter. "People here are just amazing," says Oldrich Andrysek, UNHCR's representative in Ukraine.
UNHCR is seeking US$41.5 million to aid displaced Ukrainians this year, but those in need want the government to do more. "Ukrainians will open their apartments; they won't let people freeze on the streets," Andrysek says.
In addition to suffering from the cold, many displaced Ukrainians complain of not being allowed to work – or of facing discrimination from employers who prefer to hire locals.
Vladimir, a middle-aged displaced man, has called the summer sanatorium Troyanda home since late August. It's in the middle of a forest near the small eastern town of Svyatogorsk. It was never intended as winter accommodation.
Although he was a civil engineer back home in Donetsk – the other epicentre of fighting in eastern Ukraine – he's now volunteering twice a week in the sanatorium's kitchen. "I have been to the employment centre in Svaytogorsk several times," he says. "But this is a town with just 6,000 people. There are not even enough jobs for locals."
As for Gennady, his three diplomas and expertise as an engineer might guarantee him a great job in most places. But not here. The only thing he knows for certain about his future is that he will not go back to Luhansk with its bad memories.
With Antonina's help, the search for a winter coat ends successfully. Adjusting each model on her husband with a loving caress, Antonina finally gives the seal of approval. "This one will be okay," she tells him. "This one will do. Let's take it." In truth the sleeves are a bit long, but these days Gennady and Antonina cannot afford to be choosy.
By Ernő Simon in Kharkiv, Ukraine
New Logger character; it's a Hippie Logger with a cute flower hat meditating on a mountain. This guy is due to appear in the next episode of the Chocolate Log Story.
Award winning image: a boy runs through the storming waves in the early light while a calmer girl follows carefully
In 2011 refugees fled Somalia in such numbers that the existing camps in dadaab kenya couldn't hold them. They settled on the oustkirts of Dagahaley and Ifo in self built structures. These are at the edge of Dagahaley and the refugees here are being moved to Ifo extention a tented camp that opened in august 2011 that is closer to services, schools and health centers. October 2011.
Vladimir, 41, a carpenter from Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, cuddles his six-year-old son Ilya in the collective centre they now call home. It houses 151 people displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. For now the family is living in one room in this collective centre, the former offices of a shipyard.
UNHCR / G. Kotschy
Displaced families in Ukraine rely on the kindness of strangers
MARIUPOL, Ukraine, January 5 (UNHCR) – Vladimir, 41, casts an eye around the tiny room his family now calls home. Everything he sees – clothes, three beds, dishes, pots and pans, and a television set that entertains his young son – is a donation from fellow Ukrainians.
Displaced by Ukraine's 10-month-old war, his family of four now lives in the cramped former offices of a shipyard in the south-eastern city of Mariupol along with 147 other people. "It's better than being shelled," he says cheerfully.
Mariupol has about twice as many people living in collective centres as other cities in Ukraine – 12 per cent compared to a national average of six percent. But either of these figures is low for an emergency, says Oldrich Andrysek, UNHCR's regional representative.
"This is an amazing achievement," he says. "Most displaced people are staying with families. It's an astonishing result in a country where the number of displaced people doubled every two months and has reached 610,000 in a short time – it's impressive not to have a whole series of collective centres."
Most of those staying in collective centres in Ukraine are elderly people, those living with disability, children evacuated from orphanages and people with no relatives they can stay with, or no money to pay rent.
"This puts a burden on the international community and the government to help with heating and unsanitary conditions" in the collective centres, Andrysek adds. Many were summer camps never intended to be occupied in the winter.
This particular collective centre may be an improvement for those escaping conflict, but the conditions are far from ideal. Rooms for the 151 residents are cramped and interconnecting – many have to pass through each other's bedrooms to get to the corridor to communal toilets, showers and kitchens.
When artillery shells began falling on their home in the eastern city of Donetsk last August, Vladimir's wife Olya, 29, recalls that "we fled in our summer clothes and only slippers." As anti-government forces battled the army, she recalls tanks on the streets and shells falling everywhere. "It was impossible to live there. We felt so much fear."
Vladimir takes a break from a lunch of pelmeni (dumplings) to explain how grateful the family is for the generosity of local citizens who have given them clothing, three beds and colourful red carpets affixed to the walls.
What rankles him, though, is a government welfare classification system that stipulates only certain groups of displaced people can receive cash grants. As UNHCR's Andrysek admits, the criteria assume that someone like Vladimir can support his family when that is not actually the case.
Those eligible for cash grants include invalids, families with many children, pensioners and single mothers. Thousands of people have returned to their homes in the east because they cannot afford to pay high rents.
Olya does not qualify, although she and Vladimir say their family is clearly in need. "Should I divorce her so she can get help?" Vladimir asks with irritation.
A moment later he's calmed down and talks more optimistically about returning home and buying glass to repair the windows in his badly damaged home – possibly by spring. He has the skills to do so – he's a carpenter, but unable to find work here in Mariupol. That's another sore point: He says local employers don't want to hire people from Donetsk.
Many of Ukraine's displaced fled Crimea last February or eastern Ukraine last summer thinking they would be away from home only a few days. "It's a very strange situation – maybe half the people in eastern Ukraine, even if they have an apartment to go home to, have realized they . . . won't be accepted in eastern Ukraine," Andrysek says. Their displacement threatens to become prolonged, and UNHCR is seeking US$40 million to assist them over the coming year.
At the collective centre, Olya is happy that at least her eight-year-old daughter, Nastya, is able to go to school. Meanwhile, Ilya, aged six, plays with plastic building blocks at a small table next to the muted TV. What hopes do these parents have for their children's future? "Peace," replies Vladimir without hesitation. "I don't want anything material," chimes in Olya, "only peace."
By Kitty McKinsey in Mariupol, Ukraine
Somali refugee Mako and her six children moved into a new bamboo shelter last year, after living in a tent for several months in Kobe refugee camp, Ethiopia.
UNHCR / R. Nuri / February 2013
Refugees in Ethiopia choose their own housing – and create jobs
DOLLO ADO, Ethiopia, April 8 (UNHCR) – Life in a tent in this refugee camp used to spell sleepless nights and fraught days for 33-year-old Mako and her six children. "I could not sleep at night," the Somali refugee recalls.
Even during the day, she says, "I would come back home and find my tent cut open and the sacks of sugar and rice missing."
But now she proudly surveys the bamboo shelter in Kobe camp that her family moved into last year. "My children are safer here," she says contentedly. "I can now lock the windows and the door."
Mako's new home is one of 7,200 so-called transitional shelters that UNHCR and partners have constructed in the last year in five refugee camps in the Dollo Ado area, some 1,000 kilometres south of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
The new homes signal the transition from emergency response to recovery. In 2011 the emphasis was on quickly opening three new camps to provide a haven for the 100,000 Somalis who fled drought and insecurity in their homeland. Kobe, where Mako lives, sprang up, along with Hilaweyn and Buramino camps.
The look was the classic UNHCR refugee camp picture – rows of tents. But these days, as the emergency phase of the UN refugee agency's response in southern Ethiopia ends, the camps are starting to look more and more like rural villages.
That's because providing refugees with a more durable and dignified shelter became a pressing priority for UNHCR last year. "We invited refugees to be part of the solution rather than blindly packaging a shelter model for them," says Anicet Adjahossou, shelter specialist for UNHCR in Dollo Ado.
UNHCR began discussions with refugees, the authorities and partners to develop a compelling alternative to emergency tents. "After two months of consultations and focus groups, we decided to produce and pilot three different models," said Adjahossou.
Three partners working with UNHCR in the camp – Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Danish Refugee Council and Africa Humanitarian Action – each built a transitional shelter prototype based on specific requirements, including the social and cultural background of the refugees, local availability of materials, climate and weather patterns and livelihood opportunities.
"On behalf of all refugees, we chose the NRC shelter with bamboo walls, steel roof and mud plaster," says Mako, who is also a member of the refugee committee in the camp. "It reminded us of our houses in Somalia."
Covered with corrugated iron sheeting, the shelter is suited to hot climates like Dollo Ado, where temperatures can exceed 42 degrees Celsius in the summer. "It remains cool all day long," she says, unlike tents, where refugees found it hard to breathe under the intense sunlight of the afternoon.
Luckily for the refugees, new homes also brought new jobs. More than 300 trained refugees and local residents now manufacture shelter components – bracings and roof frames – at workshops in the five camps. Another 150 workers from the refugee and host communities have been trained to assemble shelters on site. If they want better insulation, refugees can plaster their homes themselves.
So far, just under 20 per cent of the 190,000 refugees in the five Dollo Ado camps are living in these new shelters. Funding shortfalls mean UNHCR may not reach its goal to put 60 per cent of the refugees into such houses this year, Adjahossou says.
Meanwhile, house-proud Mako is doing what any new homeowner would – decorating and inviting the neighbours round. "I hope many more refugees will be able to enjoy greater living space, privacy and dignity," she says, showing off the red and pink carpets covering the walls and the floor of her living room.
"While my children are asleep, I can invite my neighbours for tea in the next room. Or I can also lock the door and spend time with just my family."
By Rocco Nuri in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia
Gorilla and Rabbit
The gorilla is an older female named Samantha. She was the last of her troop at the zoo. At her age, it was felt that she was unlikely to integrate into a new troop.
The zookeepers did not want her to be lonely, so they introduced a male rabbit named Panda into the exhibit much as they would introduce a new animal. The rabbit began behind a screen, progressed to a large mesh box and eventually to being in the exhibit. He had a safe area that he could access at any time, but, as the photo shows, it was not really needed. It did help him feel safe, though.
It has been two-and-a-half years, so I do not know what the status of the pair is, but she was definitely doting on this little guy while I was there.
Some additional Web stories on Samantha and Panda:
Displaced Congolese wait in line at an aid distribution in Goma. Jeff and his family fled to Goma from their home, but soon had to escape from fighting.
UNHCR / S. Modola
UNHCR helps young Congolese albino on the run from witchcraft
BUJUMBURA, Burundi, October 14 (UNHCR) – Anaclet smiles and looks lovingly at his young son, but the wind blowing off nearby Lake Tanganyika can't cool his feverish mind. He worries deeply about the safety of Jeff, who is different from most people.
Father and son are refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo, but they haven't fled arbitrary violence or war like most of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Great Lakes region. They are on the run because bad people want to kill six-year-old Jeff, so that they can harvest his organs for witchcraft.
"We are constantly moving from place to place, searching for a safe haven for our son," Anaclet told UNHCR at a transit centre opened earlier this year in the Kajaga area of the Burundi capital, Bujumbura. The refugee agency has been providing protection for him and his family while a solution is worked on.
The problem is that Jeff is an albino, and this makes him a target in a region where literacy rates are low and ignorance feeds dangerous superstitions. In Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Tanzania, people living with albinism are sometimes hunted like wild animals or attacked by people who believe that their body parts have supernatural powers and bring protection, luck or wealth.
Concerned by the phenomenon, UNHCR and local group Albinos Sans Frontières have launched a campaign in Burundi to raise awareness among refugees and locals about this disorder, which is characterized by a dramatic lack of pigmentation. The partners also help victims like Jeff.
The boy's pale, sensitive skin and red eyes make him stand out in sub-Saharan Africa, but until recently he had led a relatively peaceful life with his parents and four siblings in the lakeside city of Uvira in DRC's South Kivu province.
But this all changed when he was five years old. A member of a Mai Mai militia group broke into the family home when everyone was asleep, knocked Jeff unconscious and stuffed the boy into a bag. Anaclet woke and, with the help of his neighbours, beat off the intruder and grabbed back the bag and his son.
Some of the Mai Mai groups in the region believe in the supernatural and witchcraft, which they claim can make them invincible or protect them in other ways on the battlefield. They use the body parts of people living with albinism to mislead enemies.
After this attack, which left Jeff too terrified to speak for several days, the family were told by the Mai Mai to either surrender Jeff or pay them US$10,000 to go away. If they failed to respond, they would all be killed. "I could not give away my blood, because my child is my blood. That is why I chose to move to Goma [in June last year], where a relative agreed to host my family," said Anaclet, referring to the capital of neighbouring North Kivu province.
But two months later they had to flee back to South Kivu, this time to escape fighting between the Congolese government and members of the rebel M23 movement in the Goma area. They stayed with an Anglican pastor in Bukavu, but he asked them to leave after a few days because he feared Jeff's presence was putting his family at risk. He collected money from his congregation and gave it to the family.
They decided to flee to neighbouring Burundi, ending up in the Kamenge district of the capital, Bujumbura in August 2012. "My husband resumed work as a plumber and I started selling ndagala [small fish] in the market," recalled Solange, Jeff's mother. But their ordeal was not over. "On August 6 this year, someone threw a grenade at the house and shattered our peace," she added.
They then sought help from the government's National Commission for the Protection for Refugee and Stateless People and from UNHCR, which has provided protection, shelter and assistance while a permanent solution is sought.
Catherine Huck, UNHCR's representative in Burundi, said the partnership with Albinos Sans Frontières was also important for helping people like Jeff. "We hope the partnership will contribute to a greater respect of the rights of people living with albinism," she stressed, adding that the two would continue to work together.
"Governments in countries where misguided witchcraft-related beliefs still prevail should take appropriate measures to ensure the respect, promotion and protection of the rights of people living with albinism," Huck said, singling out the right to education for children like Jeff."
The Burundian government has responded in recent years to the problem by arresting and prosecuting those suspected of abducting and killing albinos, while gathering people living with albinism in locations protected by the police. But more needs to be done.
Meanwhile, in the Kajaga transit centre, Jeff is pensive, attentive and alert. His elder sister Justine, aged 10, is protective and stays near him all the time. "I don't want him to suffer," she said shyly, and Jeff nodded with a smile, distracted for a moment from the hot sun that makes him itch.
"All we need is the protection of our child from witch doctors and rebel groups," said Solange. "We are really worried."
By Bernard Ntwari in Bujumbura, Burundi
Families who will benefit from the programme attend the official launch of the Graduation Model, which will guide them toward sustainable livelihoods.
UNHCR/ G. Menezes
Giving refugees from Colombia a stable life in Ecuador
SANTO DOMINGO DE LOS TSACHILAS, Ecuador, April 8 (UNHCR) – Her grandparents share Paula's* dream that someday she will be a veterinarian, but success is unlikely without stable employment. A new programme involving UNHCR is giving 200 refugee families like them new hope.
"Since she was a child, Paula has dreamed of becoming a veterinarian," said Amelia, looking at her 15-year-old granddaughter. Around the family's small two-room apartment wander two ducks, several chickens and at least two small dogs.
"All I want is to offer her the opportunity to make her dream come true."
Their chances of success are being raised by a new programme, the Graduation Model, which is using a comprehensive approach to make refugees self-sufficient. In addition to the previous relief assistance, participants will receive vocational training, financial education and legal assistance.
Amelia has raised her granddaughter Paula since they fled to Ecuador in 2006 after death threats by members of an illegal armed group in Colombia. Paula's mother, pregnant at the time, stayed in their home country.
Despite their efforts, it has been hard for Amelia and her husband – both elderly – to secure stable employment. The odd jobs they have taken on are barely enough for daily needs, let alone to provide for their granddaughter's future. Paula is often forced to miss entire weeks of school to help her grandmother.
Many Colombian refugees in Ecuador -- lacking social networks and resources – cannot find stable employment. Creating employment opportunities is essential to alleviating poverty and integrating these vulnerable people.
To address this need, UNHCR and a number of state and partner organizations, in coordination with the private sector, have launched the Graduation Model in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, a refugee-hosting city 200 kilometres from the capital, Quito.
The pilot – involving the local government, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the national Banco del Pichincha and a financial education provider Fundación CRISFE -- supports self-employment, formal wage earning and microfinance to create livelihood opportunities.
It goes beyond providing simple relief assistance to a more targeted and self-empowering approach that offers consumption support, legal assistance, financial education and vocational training to refugees.
By participating in the Graduation Model, Amelia's family is hoping to secure a more stable income, allowing them to put some money aside for later needs like her granddaughter's education.
Amelia also hopes to someday open a seamstress shop to expand on the odd jobs she currently performs. "I don't have the means to buy a sewing machine at the moment," she says. "But once I find a more stable job, I can afford to continue my business."
The Graduation approach seeks to put 200 families on the path toward stable livelihoods by giving them the tools and resources to increase their incomes, expand their assets, and attain food security. The targeted, individual and multifaceted approach is expected to lead to substantive and tangible results in fostering economic empowerment and social inclusion of Ecuador's poorest refugees.
Besem Obenson, head of UNHCR's Field Office for Pichincha and Santo Domingo, said they are building on previous projects that used the Graduation Model approach. With the support of a mentor, who continuously guides them, participants receive training aimed at securing stable employment, developing financial awareness and maintaining healthy lifestyles.
Thanks to a recent agreement with Banco Pichincha, Ecuador's largest banking institution, these families will get individual savings accounts and basic financial education.
In a couple of weeks, Amelia and her family will start receiving food support and will attend their first classes on financial education and self-reliance. "If I die tomorrow, I would want to leave my kids with more than a roof over their heads," says Amelia, confident of a better future.
*All names have been changed for confidentiality
By Antoine Got in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas (Ecuador)
Young Syrian students take part in a "second shift" class at the Vera Frangieh school, in Zgharta, north-east Lebanon.
UNHCR / A. McConnell / January 2014
Second shift schools offer hope to young Syrians
ZGHARTA, Lebanon, February 24 (UNHCR) – "Maliki my love," sings Omar, a young Syrian boy. It's a popular song in Arabic, but the declaration of love to his favourite Lebanese teacher, Maliki, is a special addition.
Children from all over Syria have had their childhoods interrupted by the war in their homeland. For Omar, there's now a glimmer of hope. The refugee is thriving in a new school in Zgharta, north-Lebanon. The school building is a sanctuary for Omar and his peers – children's art adorns the walls, and the teachers exude kindness and enthusiasm for their pupils, despite doing double shifts to help cope with the extra demand.
With nearly 2.5 million registered refugees in the region, nearly half of whom are under 18 years of age, the pressure to provide education opportunities has been immense. In Lebanon, a third of the more than 930,000 Syrian refugees are of primary school age
While trying to accommodate the new arrivals, local schools reached saturation point and new students were unable to enrol. "I have seen classes in the first shift where there wasn't space for one more desk," said Bathoul Ahmed, a UNHCR public information officer.
A solution, for more than 27,000 Syrian children across Lebanon, has been found in the 74 Lebanese schools now running a second shift to allow more Syrian youngsters to continue with their education. The programme was piloted in the town of Arsal last year and launched across the country in November by the Ministry of Education with the support of UNHCR.
Its success has been down to the dedication of the Lebanese teachers, like Omar's favourite, Maliki, who ensure that the Syrian children receive the same level of education as their Lebanese peers. Students even receive Lebanese public school diplomas, ensuring their education is recognized.
Although he is seven, Omar had never attended primary school before enrolling here in Zgharta. In class, he sits with his older sister, Majed, who watches over him protectively -- two of his other siblings are in another class. Studying helps them think of other things than their hometown of Homs, which they fled more than a year ago.
The fact many Syrian children have been out of education for so long has led to the introduction of accelerated learning programmes for 15,000 students, to try and help them claw back some of the lost years and get their education back on track.
Schools running two shifts provide classes in Arabic, French, Maths, Science, Civil Society and Geography and take students between the ages of six and 14. After this, it's hoped that students will be fluent enough in French to enter the less crowded mainstream secondary education system in the country if they wish to continue their studies.
French language is popular with the children; it is Omar's favourite subject. He has picked up many words and phrases in the month he has been attending school, even reciting the names of shapes and numbers in front of the class.
With 270,000 school-aged children registered with UNHCR in Lebanon, there is still work to do. Last month, UNHCR, UNICEF, Save the Children and other partner organizations appealed for US$1 billion for the "No Lost Generation" campaign to fund the delivery of a strategy for education and protection for children affected by the Syrian conflict.
Throughout the 2013-14 school year, it is hoped another 10 schools will open, giving an additional 4,000 pupils across Lebanon the chance to resume their education. If it makes them as happy Omar, it is worth the US$650 per year that it costs to educate a child.
"I like school a lot," he says. Although he loves riding his bike, it cannot compare to classes: "I just wait until 2pm, until I can come to school. I do have some friends – Ali and Ahmed and Hussein – but I prefer the days when I have school."
Across the region, meanwhile, more than 550,000 Syrian children are enrolled in learning activities in the main host countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Ministry of Education runs second shifts in seven schools in the city of Erbil.
By Emma Beals in Zgharta, Lebanon.
A young girl who fled into the hills around Hera in Timor Leste clings to her doll.
UNHCR / N. Ng / June 2006
Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean assist passengers on an overcrowded sloop. The boat had just arrived from Haiti carrying 139 people.
UNHCR / 25 February 2011
Another one of those trivial Halloween photos.
I drove to work today, the view of the yellow road lines popped more than usual. They had just painted them. The lines were solid and bold, cutting the countryside in half. The lighting too, had achieved perfection. Endlessly dark rolling clouds, and the sun at my back, created a contrasty saturated image before me.
When I entered town my vision was treated to another odd sight. Cars. Cars parked everywhere. Then it hit me, it was homecoming. How could I have forgotten? I somehow managed to push the endless photos and reminders I saw on facebook that morning from my mind. Those fall colors though? I should have remembered.
Homecoming is a most peculiar day. People, people everywhere. All out of context. All looking confused. I parked far away from work and now had to travel through the campus. Northside was deserted. I walked for minutes without seeing a soul. It wasn’t until I saw a guy in his 40s or 50s with a big mustache and dark glasses did I noticed I was in some sort of ghost town. As we passed I said, “Hello.” He looked at me but simply kept walking. I noticed the awkward manner in which I said hello. It stuck out since no one else was around and I hadn’t received a response from him. I sounded like one robot sending out beeps to communicate to another. I felt my soul hang like a flabby gel over my mechanical skeleton.
It made me happy. I felt relaxed. I felt at home in my body. I stopped by the library to pick up a book. “The Reasons of Love”, by Frankfurt. I was learning about human love.
As I approached the middle of campus I saw huge, cartoonish, buses. I remembered, later that night I was helping with a loadout for, “Chance the Rapper”. I wasn’t too familiar with him. As I passed through the tour busses a group of guys, among them what I presumed to be Mr. Chance,looked at me in a most bizarre way. Some, as though I was doing something wrong. Perhaps threatening their existence. Others as though I might be interested in talking to Mr. Chance and asking for an autograph, they seemed almost hopeful. I passed by without a word exchanged. Swarming nearby were pockets of production crew members smoking and/or using their phones. The most active were those who seemed as though this was an average day for them. Another day on the job, everything oddly in place.
As I crossed the street from the north to south side of campus, a pickup truck rounded the corner. From it I heard stereotypical indian calls, the kind you hear on old cartoons, and it grew louder and louder. A pickup truck filled to the brim in guys chanted. They were approaching an event.
They were all approaching an event. Well, they thought they were. This was homecoming. They were expecting to finally find home. South campus was littered with people. All of them trying desperately to fit in while straining their necks searching. All of them looking so strange. Their smiles appeared awfully painful. With the hope from summer dwindling, they desperately tried to embrace the falling leaves. Pumpkin flavor, “We love it! We love it!”, they tried to convince themselves. They think maybe this is the year they finally find home.
As the people frantically make adjustments to their attire and their posture, the football game roars from the stadium. It’s been slowly increasing in volume since I’ve been walking. I see two kids, both under 10. They look odd, but only because the world around them is trying so hard that their organic-ness pops out at you.
The game will go on, the events will run into the night. As the hours pass they’ll somehow become both more lucid and confused. At some point they will have a substance assisted existential break down beneath a single 25 watt bulb on their friends porch. They’ll transcend their manic urge to be human and define a home, and for a moment they’ll see it all. They’ll understand why the road lines popped so well this morning.