Refugees around the globe to mark World Environment Day

News Stories, 5 June 2006

© UNHCR/J.Clark
Many refugees live in camps located in harsh environments, such as this one in the desert of eastern Chad. UNHCR marks World Environment Day with a call to combat land degradation in areas hosting refugee settlements.

GENEVA, June 5 (UNHCR) From Kashmir to the Congo, the UNHCR will help internally displaced persons and refugees celebrate World Environment Day on June 5.

"World Environment Day is an opportunity to draw attention to the dependence of refugees and the internally displaced on natural resources and to urge everyone to be considerate in the use and protection of these resources," said Arnauld Akodjenou, head of UNHCR's Division of Operational Services.

This year's theme is Desert and Desertification and the slogan is "Don't Desert Drylands!" But in order for the theme to be more applicable and relevant to most refugee situations, UNHCR has chosen to use the slogan "Combat Land Degradation in Refugee-Hosting Areas."

Akodjenou said this "reminds us that we are all responsible for ensuring the sustainable use of available natural resources and caring for the environment in refugee operations. Some refugees are hosted in ecologically fragile environments and live in the economic and social margins. It is therefore essential that we do not neglect them or the fragile habitat on which they depend."

The message of environmental care will be banged home during celebrations slated on and around June 5 in harsh environments where refugees and internally displaced persons are housed, including earthquake-hit areas of Kashmir and large swathes of the African heartland.

UNHCR has helped to prepare celebrations on June 5 at seven residual camps in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, with a special event to be held at the Jalalabad Camp in Muzaffarabad. Activities will include tree-planting, photo exhibitions and awareness training about the environment on which the survivors of last October's deadly Kashmir earthquake are so dependent.

A raft of commemorative events are also planned for refugees across Africa. These include educational events, lessons on hygiene, films, song and dance, sports, demonstrations of alternative fuel sources, promotion of horticulture and tree-planting in countries such as Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda.

In the northern Angolan town of M'Banza Congo, which hosts the Kiowa reception centre, the provincial agriculture department is organising World Environment Day events. A radio campaign on environmental care has started airing, while a town clean-up was due on June 3. Officials are scheduled to hand out seedlings to refugees at Kiowa and plant trees at the centre on the day itself.

World Environment Day has a particular resonance for the world's refugees, the majority of whom are found in marginal regions of poor, developing countries. Here, the "footprint" or environmental impact of their activities is often of great magnitude and long duration. Collecting shelter materials and firewood can cause serious deforestation and soil erosion. Natural resources are threatened by the sudden arrival of large numbers of people. In extreme cases, this can happen almost overnight.

Although environmental concerns have taken a back seat to humanitarian needs at such times of crises, the close links between the well-being of human populations and a healthy environment are being increasingly recognised.

The UNHCR's Akodjenou said the refugee agency could not afford to ignore the environmental implications of its work. "Environmental concerns come to the fore in refugee operations for many reasons, the most important being that they can threaten the institution of asylum. This is a situation that UNHCR seeks to avoid at all costs."

He said a lack of effective environmental management could also undermine ecosystem integrity and functioning of ecological services, such as the continued flow of safe drinking water; threaten livelihoods and welfare, through excessive use of local resources; jeopardize good relations with host communities as a result of conflicts over natural resources such as fuelwood, building materials, grazing and farming land.

UNHCR environmental activities are designed to prevent and to mitigate the negative effects of refugee camps on the environment as well as, when necessary, to rehabilitate it in order to ensure the welfare of refugees and local populations.

"Let us use this occasion to enhance awareness of refugees and the importance of protecting the environment. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and live in the same world," Akodjenou said.




Prominent Refugees

An A-Z of refugee achievers around the world.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol

The most frequently asked questions about the treaty and its protocol.

Refugees: Telling Their Stories

A publication of the winners & finalists of UNHCR's High School Writing Competition

[PDF, 40pp. 1.2Mb]


How UNHCR and partners seek to minimize the environmental impact of refugee operations.

Related Internet Links

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

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

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.
UNEP PSA - Seal The Deal 2009Play video

UNEP PSA - Seal The Deal 2009

A Public Service Announcement from the United Nations Environment Programme ahead of the December 2009 conference in Copenhagen.