Today, 20 of June, takes place the International Refugee Day; an opportunity that allows us to get a closer look at the reality of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
Almost everyone has heard of the acronym UNHCR, but very few know that the organization was born in 1950 with the challenge of resetting one million Europeans who became homeless after World War II. Since then, UNHCR has provided humanitarian aid to millions of people who have had to leave their homes due to armed conflict or persecution. In total, 49.7 million people are under its protection. What are their current priorities and focus of action? We talk with Joan Reventós, Director of the Catalan Committee of UNHCR
Today, there are 65, 6 million displaced people in the world. What is the main aim of UNHCR?
The UNHCR’s main challenge is to protect and assist refugees and displaced persons through persecution or war, and to promote durable solutions to their situation, through voluntary repatriation, integration into the first countries of asylum or through resettlement in third countries. With the current levels of forced displacement in the world, it is a great challenge to find durable solutions, as more than ninety percent of all displaced people live in the world’s most impoverished countries and their reception capacities, despite their solidarity, are very limited
These are people who have had to flee armed conflict or persecution and are forced to seek security in the nearby countries. What is the biggest challenge once they cross the border of their country?
It is essential that people who cross borders in search of security can effectively access their rights as persons with international protection needs. Therefore, the states that host them must have the appropriate laws, procedures and guarantees to offer asylum. Together with the legal certainty necessary to reside in a new country, they need sufficient support to be able to restart their lives and to enable them to live independently and autonomously, with the aim of becoming active subjects of the host societies, If there are conditions to return, in their countries of origin.
After 67 years since the creation of UNHCR, today there are more than 50 people under your protection. How has the experience been since today?
A complex path, full of challenges and difficulties; Successes and learning. Plagued with dilemmas. UNHCR’s mandate, both to protect and assist refugees and internally displaced persons and to reduce the number of stateless persons in the world, is a daunting challenge which requires a combination of different sensitivities and interests at global, regional and local levels.
Is there any project or past experience that serves to respond to the present needs?
There are different experiences that can serve as examples in the face of the challenges that the international community now has to face in order to reduce current levels of forced displacement. One of them was the one promoted by Fridtjof Nansen, a scientist, diplomat and statesman; A humanist with deep compassion for human beings who, at the request of the League of Nations, encouraged the High Commissioner for Refugees, an initial seed of what is now UNHCR, becoming the first international organization Dedicated entirely to finding solutions for people fleeing wars and conflicts. Nansen, thanks to his excellent diplomatic skills, reached an agreement for 52 countries to authorize the issuance of what was called “Nansen passports”, personal identification cards that allowed their holders to travel without arousing suspicion or encountering border problems. For almost two decades, these certificates enabled millions of people to be saved from persecution and barbarism, people who played a very important role in the development of host societies
In recent months, the various conflicts that have taken place in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen, among others, have been described as the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. How do you see the current and future scenario?
With concern and hope. Concern because the number of forced displacements has multiplied in recent years, and this means that millions of people have become, often overnight, refugees or displaced persons; Forced to leave their homes behind, to shed most of their belongings and, what is worse, to live the uprooting. While accelerating this process, we find that the international community does not find the political solutions necessary for this trend to be reversed in the short or medium term.
On the other hand, with hope since, in this, as in many other things in life, the Pareto Law can be of great help to us. If among all of us we are committed to addressing the causes and consequences of the four most bloody conflicts or crises that now plague the world (Syria, Palestine, South Sudan and Somalia), 80% of the more than 65 million displaced people which now scandalize us, could start thinking about returning to their homes. It may seem utopian, but it is only a matter of will and determination
What can we all do from here?
On the one hand, as citizens of a global world, be aware that forced displacement is not something alien and distant to us. Everyone could be a refugee some day, almost all the people who inhabit the land today have a relative who in his day had to flee his home because of the war. Understanding it implies understanding that behind each figure there is a person like us: with desires, hopes, fears and loves … People like you and me.
Lastly, and until political solutions to conflicts have been found, the humanitarian community needs the support of individuals and organizations in order to respond to the enormous needs that are detected in the most impoverished countries. For this reason, I invite you to become a partner or donor of the Spanish Committee of UNHCR, either by calling 913690670 or through our website www.eacnur.org, your contribution, added to that of more than 400,000 Spanish regular contributors allows us to continue #changing stories.