UNHCR opens annual consultations with NGO partners

News Stories, 25 June 2008

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
Queen Noor of Jordan addresses the opening of the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs in Geneva.

GENEVA, June 25 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency's annual consultations with NGO partners opened on Wednesday with a call by Jordan's Queen Noor for renewed international support for the Iraqi refugee relief programmes of UNHCR and others. She also urged resettlement countries to take in more Iraqi refugees.

Queen Noor and her Noor Al Hussein Foundation were among some 350 participants and more than 200 organizations from around the world taking part in this year's three-day UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs (non-governmental organizations). There were more national NGOs attending than ever before, showing how vital these are to the work of UNHCR in the field.

Referring to the "terrible pandemic" of forced human displacement, Queen Noor put a spotlight on the Iraqi refugee crisis and the threat it posed to the region. "The Middle East is particularly vulnerable as ongoing tensions are further strained by such large-scale displacement," she said, adding that one in five Iraqis had been displaced by the conflict in their country.

The queen said Syria and Jordan were struggling to cope with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees, adding that the population of her country had risen 10 percent. At the same time, only a tiny proportion of Iraqis were being taken in by industrialized countries.

"We must support the Iraqi government in providing a secure environment that will allow their citizens to voluntarily return home as soon as possible," she stressed, while urging resettlement countries to "dramatically increase resettlement."

Queen Noor, who noted that UNHCR had been having difficulties raising funding for its Iraqi programme, said the scale and duration of Iraq's emergency "requires a renewed commitment of international support to the UNHCR, its NGO partners and other organizations in their critical relief work."

Meanwhile, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone stressed the importance of UNHCR's partnership with NGOs. "We need to have partners or else we will fail as an organization," he told delegates at the opening session.

Johnstone then spoke about the reform process under way at UNHCR and aimed at cutting costs, directing more resources into the field and improving the organization's efficiency.

He said these reforms "We're about halfway through the process" would also further improve ties with NGO partners. They included more decision-making in the field, better evaluation of total needs and ratcheting up budget requests to more realistic levels.

Delegates will be discussing a wide range of issues during the gathering. Issues to be tackled include human rights; urban refugees; the shrinking of humanitarian space; refugee law; post-primary education for teenagers and youth; internally displaced people; protection of women and children at risk; and monitoring of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants in detention. There will also be regional sessions.

For the past two decades, the annual consultations have brought together NGOs and UNHCR managers to examine all aspects of their partnership on behalf of the world's uprooted people.

NGOs are vital partners for UNHCR, implementing programmes for refugees and internally displaced people in some of the world's most remote and difficult places. The UN refugee agency works with more than 600 NGOs worldwide.

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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.

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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

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That's the case in Jordan, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have bypassed camps near the border and sought shelter in towns and cities like Amman, the national capital. The UN refugee agency is providing cash support to some 11,000 Syrian refugee families in Jordan's urban areas, but a funding shortage is preventing UNHCR from providing any more.

In this photo set, photographer Brian Sokol, follows eight families living on the sixth floor of a nondescript building in Amman. All fled Syria in search of safety and some need medical care. The images were taken as winter was descending on the city. They show what it is like to face the cold and poverty, and they also depict the isolation of being a stranger in a strange land.

The identities of the refugees are masked at their request and their names have been changed. The longer the Syria crisis remains unresolved, the longer their ordeal - and that of more than 1 million other refugees in Jordan and other countries in the region.

Refuge on the Sixth Floor: Urban Refugees in Jordan

Flight by Night: Syrian Refugees Risk the Crossing to Jordan in the Dark

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Flight by Night: Syrian Refugees Risk the Crossing to Jordan in the Dark

Iraq: Breaking BreadPlay video

Iraq: Breaking Bread

Shareef fled to Iraq a year ago to escape the violence in Syria. He opened a bakery, which has done great business. When he heard about a new wave of displacement in northern Iraq in August, he decided to help those in need by providing bread.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

A new camp for displaced people is taking shape in the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, with the help of UNHCR and its partners. After weeks of uncomfortable living in the courtyard of an old public building, Chenar and her ethnic Yazidi family are looking forward to moving to the new facility.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

A new camp for displaced people is taking shape in the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, with the help of UNHCR and its partners. After weeks of uncomfortable living in the courtyard of an old public building, Chenar and her ethnic Yazidi family are looking forward to moving to the new facility.