Since its founding over 60 years ago, UNHCR has developed a strong emergency response capacity.
One of UNHCR’s primary responsibilities is to be on the ground and respond when there is a sudden emergency refugee or other humanitarian crisis – such as when violence or persecution leads large numbers of people to flee their homes. Since its founding over 60 years ago, UNHCR has developed a strong emergency response capacity, including a roster of stand-by staff members with expertise in different areas such as site planning, camp management, legal protection, water and sanitation, shelter, and other areas, who are able to deploy to emergency locations immediately when a crisis occurs.
UNHCR also maintains emergency stockpiles of essential emergency response materials such as tents and plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, and other non-food items that we can dispatch to field locations without delay. UNHCR has established long-standing agreements with freight forwarders and logistics companies, and developed a global network of suppliers, specialist agencies and partners. This means that at any given time, UNHCR has the capacity to immediately respond to a new emergency impacting up to 500,000 people, and can mobilize more than 300 trained personnel within 72 hours.
In Rwanda, UNHCR regularly engages in contingency planning with its key Government, UN and NGO partners, and maintains close communication with its offices in neighboring countries, in order to ensure preparedness in case of a sudden refugee emergency. In January 2015, UNHCR and MIDIMAR led an emergency preparedness simulation exercise with UN and NGO partners, to test contingency plans and systems in place. This is what enabled a very rapid response to the Burundi refugee emergency that started in April 2015.
Immediately upon the first arrivals of refugees on 31 March 2015, UNHCR and MIDIMAR established two reception centers to accommodate newly arrived Burundian refugees, and transported them from the border to those centers where they could be registered and receive basic assistance. After a major upsurge in refugee arrivals from Burundi in early April 2015 – which sometimes exceeded 3,000 persons per day – the Government of Rwanda on 16 April allocated land for a new refugee camp. On 17 April, UNHCR led an interagency, multisectoral assessment of the proposed site, and already on 18 April UNHCR’s site planner was deployed to develop the plan for the camp. Mahama Camp was opened only a few days later, on 22 April, when UNHCR transported the first convoy of 400 refugees.
Providing fleeing civilians with emergency help is often the first step towards their long-term protection and rehabilitation, and their eventual ability to return home.