UNHCR's Guterres and new Assistant High Commissioner urge more international attention for Africa's forgotten trouble spots

News Stories, 6 March 2006

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
High Commissioner António Guterres at a feeding centre for malnourished children in Burundi last week. The High Commissioner is calling for a coordinated approach to the many challenges facing the Great Lakes region.

GENEVA, March 6 (UNHCR) Returning from a one-week mission to the Great Lakes, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on the international community Monday to increase its support to the African region at a crucial time in its troubled history.

"The first impression is one of hope," he said during a news conference in Geneva, where he was joined by UNHCR's new Assistant High Commissioner Judy Cheng-Hopkins, who had just returned from a separate mission to Chad. "The resilience of the people is making possible what everywhere else would be a miracle. My appeal to the international community is to provide the conditions for these hopes to be translated into reality. That will require a bigger engagement in the years and months to come."

The High Commissioner last week visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. In the first three countries, he was on an unprecedented mission with the heads of the two other largest UN humanitarian agencies, James Morris of the World Food Programme (WFP) and Ann Veneman of the children's fund, UNICEF.

The delegation's first stop was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, the High Commissioner said, massive human rights violations are still taking place in some of the eastern provinces due to the extremely precarious political situation.

"According to the lowest of the figures I received, and there are much higher estimates," he said, "the number of rapes in 2005 in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was 25,000. This is something intolerable in today's world."

The High Commissioner stressed the importance of supporting the efforts of the Congolese government in building a well-trained and disciplined national army in order to improve the country's human rights situation.

"At the moment," he said, "the armed forces are an important factor of insecurity: not only do they not guarantee security, they actually commit human rights violations themselves. The international community has to do more to help the governments train and discipline its army and for this, the government needs salaries to pay its soldiers and food to feed them."

Guterres also highlighted the need for a coordinated approach in finding solutions for the region, which shelters hundreds of thousands of refugees and has been the recent theatre of some of the worst violence and atrocities the world has seen since World War II. In the DRC alone, an estimated 4 million people have died.

The High Commissioner said a global approach was needed not only on the political level, but also in the humanitarian field, noting this first joint mission was a clear signal of the UN's commitment to team-work. He used the example of the drought that is currently affecting eastern and central Africa to explain why a coordinated approach between humanitarian agencies is crucial.

"Many of the displacement problems we have today, and I am talking of tens of thousands of people, are not to do with persecution or conflict but with hunger," he said, adding that UNHCR and WFP will need to work together even more closely on this issue. "We have to address food security to avoid displacement. People should not have to leave their country to be able to receive assistance, but often it is easier for Burundians to find food in a refugee camp in Tanzania than in their village in Burundi."

UNHCR's new Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Judy Cheng-Hopkins, also spoke at Monday's news conference. Cheng-Hopkins was just back from a six-day trip to Chad, her first mission since taking office in mid-February. UNHCR runs 12 camps for more than 200,000 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan in eastern Chad.

After more than three years of violence and persecution, the flight of Sudanese from Darfur continues, with more than 100 Sudanese a day arriving at Gaga camp in eastern Chad.

This massive influx of refugees into eastern Chad, one of the world's most arid and poorest regions, is very problematic for the host country, Cheng-Hopkins said.

"We have to recognise that the refugees' presence is causing environmental damage," she said. "Lack of water, lack of firewood we are really talking basic necessities are causing tensions with the local population. We have to focus on projects to help the host communities as well as refugees."

The Assistant High Commissioner also expressed concern at a worrying trend developing in the south of Chad, where thousands of refugees have arrived from the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in recent months.

"We really cannot afford in a country as fragile as Chad to have two areas of insecurity, one in the east and one in the south, with all sorts of movements across the borders," she said, calling the situation in CAR one of the world's forgotten emergencies.

Since the middle of last year, thousands of people have fled growing insecurity in northern CAR caused by a mixture of armed insurgency against the Bangui government, military reprisals against northern villages where the insurgents are thought to be hiding, and widespread banditry.

"At the moment, there are some 47,000 refugees from CAR in southern Chad," she said. "The international community has to act now rather than let the south and CAR degenerate to the point where we have another Darfur. We really cannot afford that."

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."