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

WEM participants undergo longer simulation exercise during training

News Stories, 25 September 2006

© ©UNHCR/J.Pagonis
During the simulation exercise, emergency team trainees on the WEM course camped on the shooting range of the German army in the Schwäbische Alb.

SCHWÄBISCHE ALB, Germany, September 25 (UNHCR) UNHCR has extended the simulation section of its training for emergency response teams, placing participants under more pressure but also providing a greater sense of the reality they will face when deployed.

"We have recently increased the simulation period to two-and-a-half days from one day," said UNHCR emergency team trainer Andrei Kazakov, referring to the Workshop for Emergency Management, or WEM. "It's tougher on the participants because there's no let up in the pressure as they move from one difficult situation to another and they have to get more involved and learn to perform as a team."

The sense of reality for WEMers, as course participants are known, was increased as the latest simulation exercise was held on an army shooting range in southern Germany's Schwäbische Alb region. With tank and mortars firing rounds nearby, there could be no mistakes in map reading.

WEMers had to confront aggressive military forces determined to turn away refugees; plan and manage a camp; provide first aid; survive serious security incidents and learn to deal with the media. Negotiation skills, radio communication procedures, four-wheel driving on rough terrain and using the global positioning system are an integral part of the training.

There are three WEMs a year held in Sweden, Norway and Germany training around 40 participants each time over nine days. The course in Germany is funded by the government and foreign affairs ministry and is run in close cooperation with the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief the Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk (THW).

It is a major logistical exercise involving some 50 federal police, the German army, the German Red Cross and THW volunteers, who give their time, expertise and considerable resources to make the training a major success.

While the simulation is tough going for WEMers who camped in tents beside the shooting range, it is the highlight of the course for most people where they put into practice what they have learned in the first part of the course at the THW training centre in Neuhausen near Stuttgart.

"It gives the impression of a real situation. It alerts us and gives us mental preparedness. A lot of judgement is needed," said Geneva-based Fatima Sherif-Nor, who was previously posted in eastern Sudan. "In a normal situation a team evolves over time, but in a very short time on the WEM you are expected to act in a team and that's hard," she added.

Learning to work together competently in a difficult environment is one of the main aims of the training. After completing the WEM, participants are put on UNHCR's emergency roster for nine months, during which they must be prepared to deploy to any emergency within 72 hours for up to three months.

The most talked about elements of any WEM simulation are the security incidents, where participants find themselves in situations of life-threatening danger and have to know how to react.

"People who are aware of their patterns of dealing with crisis and understand the impact of their style or approach on others are less likely to behave in ways that create or escalate crises, than are those who are unaware," said UNHCR's security trainer, Kjell Lauvik. "As individuals become aware of the way they tend to react in the stress of conflict, they can make choices to modify their behaviour in ways that help deal with crises and conflict more constructively," he added.

Learning how to understand and manage yourself, and mentally cope with the stresses of an emergency deployment including security incidents is an important part of the training.

"The WEM helps because it familiarises people with different aspects and possibilities, so they can mentally prepare for whatever might happen," said Duda Suzic-Kofi from UNHCR staff welfare.

While tough, the WEM is highly sought after by UNHCR staff keen to be trained to be part of the organisation's emergency response team. It is also important in building closer cooperation with the THW.

"With the cooperation that UNHCR and THW have in the field, we've found that training together is a real way of understanding each others needs and breaking the ice. This makes us all much more effective working partners in the field during an emergency where it really counts," said THW's international training expert Jörg Eger, who is closely involved with organising the WEM.

"The WEM has a fantastic spirit. For everyone involved, the volunteers, the permanent staff, they really enjoy supporting these workshops," Eger added.

That sentiment is shared by UNHCR course facilitator and resource staff at the WEM as they pass on their knowledge to emergency team deployees who may end up trying to help refugees and displaced people in some of the world's most difficult and dangerous situations.

By Jennifer Pagonis in Schwäbische Alb, Germany




Related Internet Links

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

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

More than 1.5 million people flee their homes in North-West Pakistan.

Fighting between the army and Taliban militants in and around the Swat Valley in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province has displaced more than 1.5 million people since the beginning of May. Some of the displaced are being sheltered in camps set up by the government and supplied by UNHCR. Others - the majority, in fact - are staying in public buildings, such as schools, or with friends and extended family members. Living conditions are harsh. With the onset of summer, rising temperatures are contributing to a range of ailments, especially for villagers from Swat accustomed to a cooler climate. Pakistan's displacement crisis has triggered an outpouring of generosity at home. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is urging a "massive" assistance effort from abroad as well.

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Nigeria: Back to schoolPlay video

Nigeria: Back to school

When gun-toting Boko Haram insurgents attacked villages in north-eastern Nigeria, thousands of children fled to safety. They now have years of lessons to catch up on as they return to schools, some of which now double as camps for internally displaced people or remain scarred by bullets.