UNHCR emergency training goes regional with new programme in South America

News Stories, 9 October 2009

© UNHCR/E.Escalante
UNHCR staff take part in the WEMITO in Ecuador.

QUITO, Ecuador, October 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has held its first regional Workshop on Emergency Management (WEM), assembling 25 participants from across Latin America to prepare participants to be part of the area's first rapid reaction team.

The week-long training course in Ecuador, part of a UNHCR drive to decentralize staff and resources and bring them closer to displaced people, was jointly organized by the UNHCR Emergency Preparedness and Response Team and the agency's Americas Bureau.

Instead of being a WEM, the UNHCR global emergency training courses held several times a year in Europe, the course was nicknamed WEMITO Spanish for "small WEM" because the training was over six days instead of the usual 10.

"The team is now ready to be deployed at 72 hours notice to provide coordinated support during man-made emergencies or natural disasters on the subcontinent," explained Serge Malé, the Panama-based deputy director of UNHCR's Americas Bureau. "It is a first for UNHCR and we hope it will soon be replicated in other regions."

The WEMITO was similar in content and spirit to UNHCR global emergency workshops. Drawing on participants' previous knowledge and experience, it covered operational themes like international protection and negotiation skills, logistics and administrative requirements, external relations and staff security. The regional angle helped to focus on local issues and scenarios.

The course included practical training in equipment such as radio and GPS, four-by-four driving and first aid. With limited time, the workshop focused on team-building and information-sharing rather than acquiring new skills, with a strong emphasis on being well-prepared.

"The week provides an overview that helps to introduce the wide range of skills that are needed within a team during an emergency," said John Telford, the course's trainer and organizer.

Telford, who has prepared hundreds of UNHCR staff for emergency deployment, stresses that preparedness and good teamwork are key to success. "Everybody must clearly understand their role within the team, as well as communications and reporting lines."

Diego Morales, a participant from UNHCR's office in Colombia, said the course helped him to understand the elements that come into play during an emergency and how he can contribute, not only with his professional expertise in administration but as a team member. "I definitely feel more prepared now, with a better understanding of the different phases of the emergencies before, during and after."

Josep Herreros, a participant from the Ecuador office, said the workshop also provided an opportunity to exchange ideas. "It is not often that colleagues from all over Latin America have a chance to get together and discuss themes of common interest."

The week also provided an opportunity for information-sharing and dialogue with outside bodies, with a strong emphasis on coordination with other UN agencies and governments. The World Food Programme discussed the logistics of food delivery, while the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, explained the coordination mechanisms in place in the region.

The emergency team will function on a roster basis to provide protection support and leadership in man-made or natural emergencies from Argentina to Panama.

By Marie-Hélène Verney in Quito, Ecuador




UNHCR country pages

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Angelina Jolie revisits refugees in Ecuador

Just ahead of World Refugee Day, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, visits vulnerable Colombian refugees living in northern Ecuador.

Angelina Jolie revisits refugees in Ecuador

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Ecuador

Angelina Jolie, in Ecuador this past weekend, on her first field visit as the new Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

In her previous role as a UN refugee agency Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie has conducted more than 40 field visits over the last decade. This is her third time in Ecuador - home to the largest refugee population in Latin America.

Ecuador currently hosts some 56,000 refugees and 21,000 asylum-seekers. It continues to receive 1,300 new applications for refugee status each month from people fleeing Colombia. Many live in remote and poor areas of the country close to the Colombian border.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Ecuador

Ecuador: Guterres visits EcuadorPlay video

Ecuador: Guterres visits Ecuador

UNHCR chief António Guterres visits Ecuador ahead of World Refugee Day and praises the country for hosting refugees.
Angelina Jolie in EcuadorPlay video

Angelina Jolie in Ecuador

Angelina Jolie meets Colombian refugees in Ecuador during her first field visit as Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
Ecuador: Left BehindPlay video

Ecuador: Left Behind

People continue to flee to Ecuador to escape violence in neighbouring Colombia. Some have to make tough choices while seeking safety.