Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR releases book on refugee work in Arab world

UNHCR releases book on refugee work in Arab world

A new book in Arabic co-published by the UN refugee agency explores UNHCR's work and focuses on the Arab world's historic contribution to the principle of asylum, as well as efforts and shortcomings in the region's approach to refugee protection and assistance.
11 August 2003
Signing an agreement to launch the Sheikha Fatima Fund for Refugee Women and Children in Abu Dhabi were the UAE Red Crescent Authority's Khalifa Nasser Al-Suwaidi (second from right) and UNHCR's Moustapha Omar (second from left).

TUNIS, August 11 (UNHCR) - A new reference work has arrived on bookshelves across the Arab world designed to help researchers, students and human rights lawyers better understand the needs of refugees.

UNHCR in the Arab Countries: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Work, by Zouhir Chelli, was published jointly by the Arab Human Rights Institute and the UN refugee agency. It is the first book in Arabic on asylum issues and UNHCR intended for readers of Arabic who are interested in refugee law and the agency's more than half century of relief work.

The 580-page work represents a labour of love by author Chelli, who long served the government of Tunisia in numerous posts, including ambassador and diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister. Chelli currently serves as UNHCR's honorary representative in Tunis, a post he has held for 12 years.

The book, with a foreword by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, offers comprehensive coverage of asylum and refugee issues by providing ample details, tables and moving photos.

Chelli seeks to give readers an understanding of UNHCR's efforts to assist refugees, in harmony with the Arab world's history of helping travellers and people in need. This tradition has given Arabs much experience in the practical needs of assisting people fleeing war or persecution.

The world's largest refugee population is the Palestinians, numbering more than 4 million. Their future continues to be one of the most complex issues in the Middle East. The UN refugee agency cares for some 90,000 mainly Palestinian refugees in Iraq, the largest number among the more than 428,000 Palestinians who live outside the immediate Middle East, where they come under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

UNHCR in the Arab Countries: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Work addresses the attitudes of Arab countries and their considerable efforts in the field of refugee protection and assistance, including their cooperation with UNHCR and numerous private relief agencies.

The refugee agency first began working in the Arab world in 1957, when it established offices in Tunisia and Morocco to help Algerian refugees living in remote border camps. At the end of Algeria's independence war in 1962, UNHCR opened an office in Algiers and helped 260,000 people return home.

Nevertheless, Chelli's book notes that many states in the Arab world are not yet signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. Yemen is the only country on the Arabian Peninsula to have signed the international community's key refugee protection document, while all the North African states except Libya are signatories.

While Arabs have been very generous aiding refugees, particularly through private aid organisations, the book also points to a general lack of Arab dynamism in financing the UN refugee agency's activities, despite the fact that the majority of the 20 million people under UNHCR's care are Muslims.

However, important strides have recently been made by some donors.

Kuwait recently contributed a welcome $2 million to UNHCR's activities in Iraq, where the agency is laying the groundwork to repatriate up to 500,000 Iraqis. That donation put the Gulf state among the top 20 governments contributing to the refugee agency's programmes. The Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society also recently provided $375,000 for water projects in Afghanistan, and said a similar amount of money would be forthcoming.

Saudi Arabia has also provided what Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane has called "unprecedented support" to Rafha refugee camp since it was founded in 1991. UNHCR recently repatriated 244 refugees to Iraq from Rafha, and expects to help more than 3,600 of Rafha's Iraqis to go home this year with support from the Saudi government.

In addition, the agency recently signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirate's Red Crescent Society to co-operate on projects to aid refugee women and children. Sheikha Fatima, wife of UAE President Sheikh Zayed and honorary chair of the country's Red Crescent, has initially provided $600,000 to fund the programme. UNHCR is now identifying projects for eventual funding under the joint initiative.

The Oman Charitable Organisation became a first-time donor to the refugee agency in 2003, with a $367,000 contribution. Qatar also donated $100,000 to UNHCR following a visit by High Commissioner Lubbers.

Chelli writes that while UNHCR addresses refugee problems based on its international mandate, the total remedy of such problems requires political initiative targeting both the roots of conflict between countries as well as acts of discrimination, persecution and marginalisation within states. The author recommends that states and people strive to accept others, regardless of their colour, complexion, religion, culture or political opinion.

Through this well-timed book, Chelli helps readers recognise that beyond refugee figures lie human tragedies of people who lost everything and now need almost everything. In many cases, it is UNHCR's staff and partners working in remote field locations who must bridge this gap.