• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Refugees Magazine Issue 97 (NGOs and UNHCR) - Priceless trash

Refugees Magazine, 1 September 1994

Thirteen-year-old Sarajevo resident Filip Andronik has a collection that records the life-saving aid delivered to the city by UNHCR.

By Ursula Meissner

Like many 13-year-old boys, Filip Andronik enjoys collecting things. But Filip's collection does not contain the usual postage stamps, coins or coloured rocks. Filip prefers to collect humanitarian trash.

Since the beginning of the war in Sarajevo in the spring of 1992, Filip has saved hundreds of empty boxes, jars, cartons, bags, sacks, tubes, bottles and wrappers received by his family as humanitarian aid from UNHCR, various non-governmental organizations and even a few relatives abroad.

Filip lives with his mother and brother on the third floor of a shell-scarred apartment block in the Sarajevo suburb of Dobrinja, the scene of very heavy fighting for much of the war. Plastic sheeting bearing the imprint of UNHCR covers the bomb-damaged windows of his family's flat.

When the first UNHCR convoy rolled into Sarajevo in the early days of the war, Filip, then 11, decided to start his collection. Today, it provides a colourful record of the tens of thousands of tons of aid items ranging from woolen socks to wheat flour provided by the international community through UNHCR and its partners.

Filip has high hopes for his unique collection.

"I'm going to get into the Guinness Book of Records by collecting packaging left over from humanitarian aid," Filip said. "And I'll show people how much we've received and what we had to live on."

Filip, who with his friends also collects spent bullets and shell fragments, worked hard to build and maintain his prized collection. He would often sneak out of the apartment while his mother was away to get water from a community well to clean the plastic, metal and paper wrappers.

He stores his collection in UNHCR cartons and flour bags. Each large cardboard carton is stamped with big red hearts. Filip makes the heart design out of raw potatoes. Anyone who knows how much potatoes cost in Sarajevo will at once understand how sincerely he believes in what he has written on the cartons next to the hearts: "I love humanitarian aid."

The collection is tangible proof for Filip and his family that they have not been forgotten by the world. And it gave Filip something to do during many long days and nights filled with the terrifying sound of shelling and gunfire. Filip's school has been destroyed. Now and then a teacher gives lessons in a private house, but most of the past two years have been spent at home.

Filip often spreads out his beloved collection on the floor of the small room which he shares with his older brother. At last count he had collected 51 cans and 484 bags and boxes. He also has some toothpaste tubes. He only collects wrappers from aid received by his family.

Filip said that during the first three months of the war, everybody spent all their time in the cellar. Beans, home-baked bread and noodles were all they had to eat. Then, once the aid began rolling in, they got cheese, tuna fish, corned beef and sometimes even chocolate.

For much of the war, no one knew when another convoy with humanitarian aid would arrive in their neighbourhood, or when a package for them had come in. They had to keep going to the distribution centre to find out even when there was shooting. Neighbours would pass along any information they could gather.

Since the recent cease-fire, it has been different. Families are told by telephone when they can come to the distribution centre to collect their next aid package.

Most of the aid was brought in by the humanitarian airlift coordinated by UNHCR and the U.N. Protection Force, and by UNHCR convoys.

Filip doesn't know of anyone else in Sarajevo who has a similar collection. But he knows that humanitarian aid has become a focus in the lives of nearly all of Sarajevo's 380,000 residents. Without such help they couldn't have survived, Filip said.

And how long will Filip continue collecting? "Until the war's over," he replies. And when will that be? "When there is no more need for humanitarian aid."

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 97 (1994)

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Partnership: An Operations Management Handbook for UNHCR's Partners (Revised Edition)

A practical guide for those working with UNHCR in protecting and assisting refugees.

Non-Governmental Organizations

A priority for us is to strengthen partnerships with non-governmental organizations.

UNHCR Figures

Annual budget reached a record US$4.3 billion in 2012.

Refugees

The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR stood at 10.4 million at the beginning of 2013, down slightly from a year earlier.

UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database

Standardized data on UNHCR's population of concern at country, regional, and global levels.

Annual Consultations with NGOs

An important yearly forum.

2014 Annual Consultations with NGOs

The 2014 Annual Consultations with NGOs took place from 17 to 19 June 2014 at the International Conference Centre Geneva (ICCG). For further information, visit our website:

Yao Chen and UNHCR

Learn about Yao Chen's links with UNHCR.

Alek Wek and UNHCR

Learn about Alek Wek's links with UNHCR.

Yao Chen Biography

One of China's most popular actresses and one of the world's top micro-bloggers.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Life in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp is hard. Scorching hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, this flat, arid patch of land near the border with Syria was almost empty when the camp opened in July. Today, it hosts more than 31,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

The journey to Jordan is perilous. Refugees cross the Syrian-Jordan border at night in temperatures that now hover close to freezing. Mothers try to keep their children quiet during the journey. It is a harrowing experience and not everyone makes it across.

In Za'atari, refugees are allocated a tent and given sleeping mats, blankets and food on arrival. But as winter approaches, UNHCR is working with partners to ensure that all refugees will be protected from the elements. This includes upgrading tents and moving the most vulnerable to prefabricated homes, now being installed.

Through the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR has also distributed thousands of winter kits that include thermal liners, insulated ground pads and metal sheeting to build sheltered kitchen areas outside tents. Warmer clothes and more blankets will also be distributed where needed.

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Almost Home Play video

Almost Home

Former Angolan refugees, in exile for as many as three decades, are given the opportunity to locally integrate in neighboring Zambia with the help of UNHCR and the Zambian Government.
UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExComPlay video

UNHCR: Protection Speech at ExCom

UNHCR's Head of News Adrian Edwards interviews Volker Türk, the agency's protection chief, about his address to UNHCR's governing Executive Committee on the global protection environment.
UNHCR Meet: Nation of the DisplacedPlay video

UNHCR Meet: Nation of the Displaced

UNHCR's governing body, at its annual meeting, draws attention to the increasing numbers of displaced and the challenges of protecting and assisting them. The number of forcibly displaced people is equivalent to the 26th largest nation on earth.