By Reaven D’Souza
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will hold a pledging conference at the end of March to raise what is being described as the largest ever amount in its history to help Afghan refugees who are in an increasingly dire situation. The aim is to raise more than US$5 billion from donor nations, disclosed visiting UNHCR Regional Director for Asia and Pacific region, Indrika Ratwatte, at a recent press briefing held at the UN House in Mishref.
Reiterating that the UNHCR has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with Kuwait that spans several years, Mr. Ratwatte added that Kuwait has over the years played a leading role in supporting humanitarian efforts globally. Speaking to the press at the conclusion of his two-day visit to the country, he stressed the importance of continuing international support and solidarity with refugees and displaced persons in light of the increasing humanitarian needs, specifically in Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
“We are grateful for the partnership and generous support provided by the government and people of Kuwait, as Kuwait ranked as the top donor to UNHCR in the region over the last decade, with contributions exceeding $435 million representing a model of international solidarity required to meet the enormous humanitarian needs that we are witnessing at the present time.” said Mr. Ratwatte.
Pointing out that there are nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who live in Cox’s Bazar camps, who are completely dependent on humanitarian aid, the UN official emphasized that the support provided by the international community is critical to protecting the refugees and providing them with life-saving assistance and services.
Regarding his meeting with Kuwait’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Development and International Cooperation, Hamad Al-Mashaan, the UNHCR regional director said they discussed recent developments and humanitarian needs in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. He also added that he had held fruitful discussions with a number of representatives of charities and humanitarian organizations in Kuwait, including the Patients Help Fund Association and the Tanmia Foundation, Zakat House, and the Kuwait Red Crescent Society.
Stating that the refugee hosting countries will face a humanitarian catastrophe if the international community does not intervene with timely help and assistance, he added, “There are 530,000 people who have recently benefited thanks to the generous contributions of the Kuwait Red Crescent and Kuwaiti charities.”
With regard to cooperation with the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its support for the UN organization, Mr. Ratwatte said, “We are working with various parties around the world, including the Taliban government, to make sure that aid can reach the refugee beneficiaries without any obstacles, and the authorities have enabled us to reach the refugees to provide humanitarian aid that meets their daily needs,” and noting that “the work that the UN organization is doing is in the interest of the Afghan people.”
Equally, neighboring countries, notably Pakistan and Iran, have hosted over 2.2 million registered refugees for over 40 years. They also require sustained support so that they can continue inclusive policies towards refugees.
In response to a question regarding that a large part of the donations do not reach their beneficiaries, but are allocated to the organization’s administrative expenses, Mr. Ratawatte replied that there were no administrative costs, but there is an operational cost not exceeding 6.5 percent of the contributions.
Pointing out that in the case of Afghanistan the UNHCR had 360 employees working in the field, including 80 international employees working on the ground to coordinate aid, and they required logistics support to reach the needy and provide assistance to them pointing out that, he said, “Zakat donations do not have any operating fees or commissions.”
Noting that many refugees and displaced persons required physical and psychological care, he explained that, “We strive to provide physical protection for displaced persons and refugees, especially in areas close to conflict, and seek to transfer them to safer places, but psychological care remains a major challenge facing us to the extent that some of them need years to recover as they would have to undergo psychological counseling.”
On the challenges facing the organization’s work, he said, “The registration and documentation of refugees and Internally Displaced People are one of the most important challenges facing our work, in addition to the need to share responsibility for these displaced people and refugees with the host countries and provide the necessary support to them, pointing out that 80 percent of the refugees around the world are hosted by developing countries that have their own challenges.”
Disclosing that the next donors’ conference for Afghanistan was scheduled for 31 March, Mr. Ratwatte indicated the possibility of it being held in Geneva because it is the general center for many humanitarian organizations.
For her part, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the country, Nisreen Rubaian said that the purpose of the visit of the Regional Director for the Asia and the Pacific region at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Indrika Ratwatte, was to thank Kuwait, civil society institutions and charities for their generous contributions to humanitarian aid to the refugees and the internally displaced, as well as for providing the basic needs of millions of refugees and displaced persons, not only in the Arab community, but in the entire world. She added the visit also aimed to highlight the situation of refugees in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and in neighboring countries.