UN refugee agency winds up work in Indonesia's tsunami-hit region
JAKARTA, March 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is phasing out its emergency relief operations in Indonesia's Aceh province in a move that coincides with the government's announced plans for the transition from emergency relief to long-term reconstruction.
UNHCR's withdrawal from the huge international relief effort in Aceh began on March 12 following discussions with a number of government departments. The refugee agency expects to have completed the handover of its operations and to have phased out its presence in Aceh - where there are now hundreds of international aid agencies - by Friday, March 25.
With a mandate for protecting refugees fleeing violence and persecution, UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, and its programme in Aceh was unprecedented. Given the enormity of the tsunami crisis, it was asked to join the United Nations emergency response effort and quickly mounted a programme to help provide shelter and other assistance to some 100,000 people along Aceh's devastated west coast.
It deployed mobile teams to temporary field locations in Medan, Banda Aceh, Meulaboh, Calang and Lamno. Swiss helicopters and sea transport provided by the Indonesian Army were used to transport lightweight tents, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets, blankets and locally produced plastic sleeping mats. UNHCR also developed a strategy to support early return and the provision of permanent housing units to the affected population in some of the smaller coastal communities.
"UNHCR understands the government's desire to review and rationalise the huge humanitarian effort in Aceh as it now prepares for the next important stage - long-term reconstruction," the agency said in a statement released in Jakarta today. "UNHCR remains ready to provide support in that stage if requested to do so by the government."
The refugee agency has already closed offices at Lamno, Calang and Meulaboh on the west coast and arranged for the transfer of supplies and assets and the dismantling of telecommunications and other equipment. Remaining staff will depart Banda Aceh by the end of this week.
At the request of the UN Country Team, UNHCR in January presented a six-month, $60-million operational plan for Aceh, focusing primarily on shelter needs. About $33 million of the amount raised remains available, while $7 million has already been spent. If UNHCR is not requested to take part in the reconstruction phase, it will be consulting with its donors on the use of the unspent funds. Options could include reimbursement to donors or transfer to other agreed agencies. UNHCR is currently in the process of discussing these and other options with its donors.
"UNHCR is proud to have been a part of the UN response and to have been able to work alongside the people of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. It is also grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute so effectively to the Indonesian government's overall response," the agency said.