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Latest UNHCR emergency training aimed at senior managers

News Stories, 17 March 2010

© UNHCR/S.Imberton
Two UNHCR staff members, well padded against the cold, take part in the emergency training in Sweden.

REVINGE, Sweden, March 17 (UNHCR) Aid workers scrambled to meet the needs of thousands of people fleeing fighting between government troops and separatist rebels in the countryside near southern Sweden's main university campus in Lund.

Operating from a sprawling base camp atop a frozen hill on the outskirts of Revinge, 24 long-time aid workers arrived from across the globe earlier this month to address humanitarian needs facing the host community and the uprooted civilians. The humanitarian crisis was actually part of a Workshop for Emergency Management organized by UNHCR and hosted at the Rescue Services College in Revinge.

The mock crisis was loosely based on the situation in northern Yemen, where a temporary ceasefire between Yemen's forces and local Houthi tribes is allowing aid agencies like UNHCR to expand operations. Fighting that erupted there in 2005 has displaced more than 250,000 people, more than half of them since mid-2009.

The exercise was the first emergency training specifically for senior managers, mostly UNHCR staff but also personnel from key partners including the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Humanitarian City (Dubai) and personnel from two Scandinavian UNHCR standby partners, the Danish Refugee Council and the Norwegian Refugee Council, as well as the US government Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

The participants converged from current operations in places such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia to hone their skills to ensure staff are poised to respond to displacement crises in a matter of hours.

"UNHCR conducts these training seminars three times yearly to ensure our staff may refresh their skills," said Iain Hall, chief of UNHCR's Emergency Preparedness and Response Section. "The government of Sweden has long been an enthusiastic supporter of this effort, and together with Norway, Germany and other states helps ensure that we have a variety of staff able to meet urgent needs in humanitarian crisis situations, be they man-made [conflict] or caused by natural disaster."

Participants agree to be deployed anywhere in the world within 72 hours for up to four months, and they remain on this emergency roster for two years. Preparation for the course and eventual deployment as part of one of UNHCR's Emergency Response Teams means getting their current offices to agree that they serve on the roster, as well as the understanding of their families.

"This exceptional training effort is about ensuring that we have highly skilled senior managers who also undergo this special course to address the needs of displaced persons and the humanitarian community's cluster," Hall said.

Participants were enthusiastic, despite sub-zero nights in tents and tense days facing those playing angry officials and traumatized displaced people. "It is very good, and I'm impressed with all the people here," said Odd Einar Olsen of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Monica Sandri currently works with the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul as an emergency and social protection adviser and in the past served with the Norwegian Refugee Council. She took part in the UNHCR course as a member of the Danish Refugee Council emergency stand-by roster.

"This course is giving me more knowledge in how to manage an emergency and, more importantly, how to manage relations in a crisis," Sandri said. "I have always worked with refugees and internally displaced persons, so for me this senior level training is more focussed on management and how to address emergencies."

By Peter Kessler in Revinge,Sweden

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