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Q&A: Top Colombian envoy visits Lebanon for UNHCR's Executive Committee

News Stories, 27 May 2013

© UNHCR/B.Ahmed
Ambassador Alicia Arango Olmos, who chairs UNHCR's Executive Committee, meets young refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 27 (UNHCR) Alicia Arango Olmos chairs the UN refugee agency's important Executive Committee. The Colombian diplomat has a vital role to play in Geneva, but she rarely gets the opportunity to see UNHCR at work on the ground. Earlier this month, she went on a field mission to look at the vital emergency relief work being conducted by UNHCR in Lebanon, which is hosting more than 480,000 Syrian refugees. Ambassador Arango Olmos visited community centres and collective shelters in Beirut, Tripoli and Saida and her trip will help raise awareness about the situation for Syrian refugees and to inform colleagues of their many needs. She discussed her impressions with UNHCR Public Information Associate Dana Sleiman. Excerpts from the interview:

You visited Syrian refugees in south and north Lebanon. What did you see?

I was very impressed by two things... First, it was very encouraging to see women working for their own empowerment, working to be themselves, working so that their daughters can have a better future. In them, you see hope. At the same time... I think that what UNHCR has achieved is admirable: the way people function, the way people receive the refugees, the faces of refugees. I think that has to be shown to the world. That's the real way to work.

What was the general mood among the refugees you met there?

I could see several moods. First, [I saw] women with lots of will and desire to achieve things for themselves, for their family... [They are] shouting to the world: "We are here and we want to go on." At the same time, I would like to call the international community's attention to the fact that providing shelter on its own is not a durable solution... We have to give hope... We have to help people to get out of the shelters and make a life for themselves.

Were you particularly moved by any personal story?

Here, you constantly hear stories about many things. But what moves me most is not having an answer to what's going to happen tomorrow. When you don't have answers about what's going to happen tomorrow, life loses its pleasure.

What was your impression of the UNHCR operation in Lebanon?

I'm really impressed. UNHCR staff are... working in a very difficult situation. I'm impressed by your organization, by the way you treat refugees, by your openness, by always being there, always being ready... I really congratulate you.

Does UNHCR have enough resources to meet the needs of all these refugees?

There's undoubtedly a need for funds. The international community, the private donors... everyone should take a look at the Lebanon situation and make an effort to help. A little assistance from everyone helps a lot.

How does the situation compare to the problem of displacement in Colombia?

Colombia has had a [forced] displacement problem for many years, unfortunately. Today, we have more displaced people than any other country in the world: 4 million. It's something that you have to pay attention to, because it grows. And people get used to it. You should never get used to being displaced. So now, it's time for Lebanon and the world to pay attention to the situation. Please don't let this become bigger.

What message do you have for the international community?

Lebanon is shouting for help. Funding is needed: we need to broaden our community of donors. We need more people, more countries, working on this. And I also have to thank all donors and all those working on this.




UNHCR country pages

Executive Committee

The governing body meets annually to discuss programmes, budgets and other key issues.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett visits refugees in JordanPlay video

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett visits refugees in Jordan

UNHCR global Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett has recently visited Jordan, where she witnessed the ongoing humanitarian support to people displaced by conflict in Syria.
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Switzerland: UNHCR Finding Pathways for Syrian Refugees

In the pursuit of innovative ways to help Syrian refugees, a conference in Geneva considers proposals for other pathways such as humanitarian admission, scholarships, family reunification and labour mobility.
Syria: Hope Returns to Baba AmrPlay video

Syria: Hope Returns to Baba Amr

Twelve out of 36 neighbourhoods in the city of Homs are in desperate need of reconstruction. One of them is Baba Amr, where clashes in 2011-2012 uprooted some 80,000 people. Four years on, returning residents and Syrians displaced from other parts of the country are coming together to rebuild the area.