On August 19, the world observes World Humanitarian Day
On August 19th, the world celebrates World Humanitarian Day to honor the selfless work of humanitarians who support people affected by crises in Ukraine and around the world.
Today, there is not a single continent that is not affected by conflict, as a result of which people are forced to flee in search of safe haven for themselves and their families. The dynamics of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, conflict and displacement are increasingly interconnected and intensifying, forcing more and more people to seek security and shelter.
We are sadly currently witnessing the world’s largest forced displacement since World War II, with more than 82 million forcibly displaced persons in 2020, according to the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report.
Ukraine is no exemption, with the eastern part of the country undergoing its 8th year of armed conflict. Various national and international humanitarian agencies continue to provide vital assistance to conflict affected populations, sometimes suffering casualties among their own staff. In 2014, a humanitarian worker of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed by a shell near the ICRC headquarters in Eastern Ukraine. In 2017, an employee of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine was killed and two other were injured in an explosion that damaged their car near the village of Pryshib in the non-government controlled area (NGCA) of Luhansk oblast.
In 2020 alone, 475 humanitarian workers were attacked globally: 108 were killed, 242 wounded and 125 abducted (according to UN data).
It is important to honor the ones who have made the greatest sacrifices to help others and to draw the world’s attention to the ongoing conflicts and crises.
According to the United Nations, about 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection this year. This is one person out of 45 worldwide, the highest figure in decades. The UN and partner organisations aim to help the 109 million most vulnerable people, which requires $28.8 billion in funding.
Today, on this special day, UNHCR Ukraine is proud to pay tribute to the work of colleagues on the frontline of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Despite all difficulties and uncertainties, our colleagues have devoted themselves to serving those who are fleeing violence and persecutions. Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Jordan, Djibouti, Myanmar, Libya… Those are just a few of the places where UNHCR staff is working to save lives and protect the rights and well-being of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
My name is Iryna. I am a humanitarian worker at UNHCR Ukraine.
I have joined UNHCR Ukraine in August 2014, when the agency started its emergency response to massive displacements in Eastearn Ukraine. Most of my missions were linked to protection work. This included communicating with affected people, learning their needs and providing urgent assistance in the form of basic domestic items, clothes, repairs to damaged homes and heating systems in winter. I am now an Assistant Protection Officer for the Mariupol Field Unit.
I have been working as part of a smart and proactive team for over 7 years. My main mission today is to analyse data about developments at the contact line and about the communities hosting IDPs. This analysis helps us understand daily worries of people living in displacement and on the contact line as well as what causes them. We usually work closely with municipal and regional authorities to resolve problems such as damaged houses, lost documents or separated families.
In December 2019, I was summoned for an emergency mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to support a field team in Bunia. DRC is a very beautiful country with picturesque nature and abundant in mineral resources. Unfortunately, the population in many regions suffers from acts of violence caused by militia groups. UNHCR operation in the country is extensive and has existed for a long time. Colleagues provide protection to refugees fleeing Burundi, Central Africa and South Sudan, as well as a large number of IDPs.
In Bunia, I worked with another great team which helped the government relocate several thousands of IDP families to a safer and better organised settelement. I helped the team prioritise families for relocation, monitor conditions at the newly established settlement and follow up on individual cases (unaccompanied minors, people in need of medical assistance, people in need of bigger shelter). We also had to manage new arrivals of people fleeing violence in their home villages.
Emergency response to displacement was coupled with urgent planning in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our team had to implement hygiene measures in IDP settlements and host communities. We had to rethink our way of working to limit the risks of Covid contagion, which was not an easy job, to be honest.
I asked young girls and boys in the settlement what was the most pressing problem to solve. They immediately replied that they wanted to go to school. The desire to study exceeded the wish to play football and do handcrafts. Unfortunately, parents need to pay tuition fees for most schools, not to mention costs associated with the purchase of school clothes and stationery. Many families, especially displaced, cannot afford this. Instead of going to schools, kids end working odd jobs around the communities to help their families earn some income.
The impact of humanitarian work is not always easy to assess. I think the best thing we can do is listen carefully to the stories of people who need assistance after surviving traumatic events. We might not be able to help soothe the pain and resolve problems right away. We might not have enough resources to respond to the needs of every single person who comes to us for help. But what we definitely can do is share their stories. We can make their voices louder so that people in position of power can hear and help them. In IDP operations, UNHCR works closely with multiple actors from various sectors. When our joint work brings positive change to a family or community, it makes me want to keep going.
My name is Dmytro. I served in 3 emergency missions abroad.
I have been working with UNHCR since June 2015. I served in various roles, as Senior Protection Assistant, Protection Associate, Security Associate, Assistant Protection Officer, Protection Officer and Field Officer.
After completing the Workshop on Emergency Management with UNHCR in 2017, I became an active participant in almost all emergency rosters until the end of 2021. Over this period, I was selected for more than 5 emergency missions, yet participated only in 3 of them due to the challenging and demanding operational environment in my field office.
My core responsibilities include but are not limited to :
My 1st mission was in Sudan in 2017. I was deployed in White Nile State, Kosti Sub-Office in the capacity of Field Officer, to respond to the South Sudanese emergency. This included management, supply, creation of a favorable protection environment in 5 refugee camps hosting over 200,000 refugees.
The 2nd mission was in Nigeria, in 2019, in the Northeastern region of Borno State in the capacity of Protection Officer. The main objective was to re-instate UNHCR leadership in the protection cluster, provide quality coordination protection activities and respond to humanitarian organisations in Ngala and Banki local government areas, that hosted over 300,000 iDPs who fled the violence of Boko Haram.
The 3rd mission was in 2021, in Gadaref, Eastern Sudan to provide a humanitarian response to the 60,000 refugees from the Tigray region in Ethiopia who fled to Sudan due to military hostilities, to seek asylum and shelter.
My name is Sofiya. In 2021 I supported UNHCR Uganda.
I have joined UNHCR Ukraine in 2015 as a Human Resources Staff. My work consists in identifying the most qualified and suitable candidates for roles at UNKCR Ukraine. On top of this, I offer daily support to our staff by providing guidance on rules, regulations, entitlements and obligations formulated by UNHCR headquarters and by the Ukraine office.
In 2021, I served in UNHCR Uganda. I was based in Kampala for 3 months. UNHCR Uganda is one of the largest offices with more than 600 staff. During my mission, I ensured compliance with HR policies and procedures by supporting national staff with recruitment processes and by providing support to international staff.
I learned a lot during this mission, being on another continent, living in a different context and culture, dealing with people from diverse backgrounds. I have gained so much experience in Uganda that I feel confident I am now able to handle any complex human resources matter.
I am thrilled to be able to contribute to the selection of suitable candidates for UNHCR, as I know they would do their absolute best to deliver services that will save lives and provide assistance to the most vulnerables we serve all over the world.
My name is Vartan. In 2021 I went on a mission to Sudan to support Tigray refugees.
I started my career at UNHCR Ukraine in December 2015 as a Protection Associate. At the time, my office based in Kharkiv covered activities in Kharkiv and the Northern part of Donetsk oblasts. Later, I was assigned as Assistant Field Officer and became the Head of a small field unit in Kharkiv. Finally, I moved to Sloviansk to work at the contact line.
I currently manage a field unit in Sloviansk. Together with my team, we are responsible for the implementation of UNHCR’s activities as well as the monitoring of partners’ activities. Most of the funds are dedicated to supporting people residing in areas up to 5 km away from the contact line in the Northern part of Donetsk oblast. There, we mostly provide support in accessing services and rehabilitating public infrastructure. We also offer psychosocial support and individual cases management. Our work encompasses IDP integration, durable solutions (especially housing) and legal support in the rest of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. In all these areas, we advocate for better solutions, integration and equal rights for displaced and conflict affected communities.
In February 2021, I was informed of a mission to Sudan to support operations of the Tigray refugees’ response. The following month, I arrived at the UNHCR office in Gedaref, the field office covering the response in Tigray refugee camps. The mission lasted 3 months. I worked as UNHCR focal point for an isolated camp hosting 18,000 people. I coordinated all aspects in the camp: partners (whether they were UNHCR funded or not), daily activities, communication with local authorities and of course engagement with the refugee community. The latter part was the most rewarding. The Tigray people are very resilient and ready to work hand in hand with the international community to find better solutions for themselves.
One day, a teenager approached me. He informed me that he was living with a group of peers in the area of the abandoned hospital. It surprised me since I knew this was a very bad area of the camp. When I arrived there with government and international partners, we indeed found out that the group of unaccompanied minors was living in terrible conditions with no access to food nor water. I requested partners to provide them with hot food and child protection services. We immediately set up a working group focused on the specific needs of unaccompanied minors.
What motivates me to keep on working in the humanitarian sector is to know my team and I have helped improve a multitude lives. This feeling is unique and the work extremely rewarding.
My name is Lidiia. I supported UNHCR Thailand after the coup in Myanmar.
I have been working for UNHCR Ukraine in Kyiv for 5 years as an Associate Legal Officer. My area of responsibility is working with partners who provide assistance to Ukrainians who have been forced to flee shelling in Eastern Ukraine or occupation in Crimea. This includes both providing IDPs with legal assistance and working with State authorities to improve access to services and make sure IDPs can fully exercise their rights, as any citizen of Ukraine would.
We also work with initiative groups and organisations set up by IDPs in different localities. This work is very exciting. IDP communities are extremely active and inspiring. They work by uniting local populations, solving environmental or social issues, implementing projects for young people or children with disabilities, helping victims of violence or the elderly.
From May to August 2021, I went to the Thailand office, where a large influx of refugees from Myanmar was expected as a consequence of the military coup of February 1st. Persecutions of members of the civil disobedience movement in Myanmar resulted in increased refugee flows to neighbouring countries, including Thailand.
I was sent to the field office in Mae Sot, Northwestern Thailand, 4 km from the border. 2,500 km of the border between Myanmar and Thailand runs along a winding river, among rocky mountains and jungles. As the Thai government does not want to place newcomers in existing camps, we conducted site assessment trips to the locations of the future camps. At least 40,000 refugees were expected to arrive. In order to work effectively with them, coordination was needed between the different local organisations, mostly small in size but enthusiastic to help.
We managed to establish effective communication and joint provision of hygiene, food and medical services. We made sure that the needs of women and men, boys and girls, people with disabilities and elders would be taken into account. Local partner organisations received training on child protection, prevention of sexual violence and exploitation. Carrying out planning with limited data and changing variables was the most challenging: from quarantine measures, which changed weekly, to decisions of the donor community to allocate funds for certain activities. Meanwhile, in the absence of refugee legislation in Thailand, special attention needed to be paid to preparing positions for negotiations with the government to prevent the forced return of refugees to places where they are in danger.
Background notes: World Humanitarian Day is celebrated on 19 August, in honor of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 of our colleagues who died that day 19 years ago (in 2003) during the bombing of the UN headquarter in Iraq.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, a native of Brazil, had worked for UNHCR and other UN humanitarian organisations and missions for more than 30 years. The foundation, named after him, proposed the idea of setting up a special day to honor the memory of humanitarian workers who have been killed or injured while doing their job.
Since World Humanitarian Day was first celebrated in 2009, 12 years ago, around 100 humanitarian workers have died each year around the world.
This article was edited by Sarah Vallee. Find volunteering opportunities at https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en