World Humanitarian Day: People helping people

News Stories, 19 August 2011

GENEVA, August 19 (UNHCR) UNHCR staff were celebrating the third annual World Humanitarian Day on Friday at the end of an extremely challenging year for aid workers around the globe.

"Crises in the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Middle East and North Africa have tested the capacities of UNHCR and other UN organizations. It's against the backdrop of these recent crises, and all the other ongoing humanitarian situations which do not make headlines but still require our full attention, that we will mark World Humanitarian Day," Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikoff said in a message to staff.

"This date also marks UNHCR's staff memorial day. With humanitarian workers around the world increasingly seen as targets in conflicts, this day gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to all of our colleagues in humanitarian organizations who have died while courageously trying to help the world's most vulnerable people and to honour our colleagues on the frontlines of today's humanitarian crises," he added.

The purpose of humanitarian work is to help the neediest people overcome life-threatening circumstances in order to survive- a mission to which tens of thousands of people devote themselves every day. World Humanitarian Day gives them a chance to honour their own.

© UNHCR/P.Moore
Humanitarian in Action: A UNHCR staff member talks to Saloman, a 17 year-old Eritrean, who had fled violence in Libya.

World Humanitarian Day was inaugurated in 2009 on the sixth anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, which left 22 people dead, 18 of them from the United Nations, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, who started his humanitarian career at UNHCR and rose to become Assistant High Commissioner before moving to more senior UN positions.

Humanitarian work is a risky business. Last year, 242 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or injured in the line of duty, one of the worst year's ever for the aid community. In 2000, by contrast, there were 91 victims of violence. At least 780 aid workers have been killed in the past decade.

At UNHCR there are countless stories of sacrifice and inspiration among staff members. Juliette Murekeyisoni, who grew up as a refugee in Burundi, returned to her native Rwanda in 1994 to help women and children caught up in the genocidal violence that year. She tells her story here as part of a UNHCR video initiative based on individual storytelling: http://www.youtube.com/user/storytellingunhcr

This year's World Humanitarian Day commemorations include a new website established by the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The site includes stories about and by humanitarian workers and provides ways for viewers to spread the word about the day, learn more and volunteer their time.

In addition, a music video has been produced specifically for World Humanitarian Day. The Somali-born singing duet Sweet Rush appears on behalf of UNHCR. Elsewhere, staff at UNHCR and other agencies will be holding walks, talks and other gatherings to commemorate the day.

For the special OCHA site, go to: http://ochaonline.un.org/whd/