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UNHCR: Inclusion is key to protecting the vulnerable by Liu Yizhou,January 15, 2021 Adjust font size:

2021 marks the 70th anniversary of the signature of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. For over 70 years, UNHCR, the UN refugee Agency, has been dedicated to helping refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. 2020 was a hard year for those forced from home, and UNHCR worked to ensure their rights to seek asylum and find safe refuge. UNHCR and the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) recently signed agreements to support refugees in Afghanistan and East Africa. What are the agreements and what influence they will bring? What did UNHCR do in the past year to help the refugees? interviewed UNHCR representative in China Sivanka Dhanapala. Let's explore the answers.

Sivanka Dhanapala [photo courtesy of UNHCR] and CIDCA recently signed agreements on two new projects in Afghanistan and East Africa. The projects will support the most vulnerable people in these locations by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan as well as providing emergency shelter assistance and education support in response to COVID-19. Could you please introduce the projects for us? And how will they benefit people in need in the two regions?

Sivanka Dhanapala:We welcome the signing of these agreements to support some of UNHCR’s most important operations globally.

Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania are among the major host countries for refugees and internally displaced people, or IDPs. In these countries COVID-19 is putting 4.6 million refugees and 8.1 million IDPs and their host communities at risk. Thanks to China’s support through the South-South Cooperation Assistance Framework, UNHCR will procure, ship and distribute masks, gowns, gloves, goggles and gumboots to medical facilities in these three countries. The project aims to support developing countries by sharing the burden of hosting the forcibly displaced while also supporting local host communities. Approximately one million refugees and asylum-seekers will benefit, as well as IDPs, host communities and health workers.

Meanwhile Afghanistan is at the center of one of the longest-running situations of forced displacement in the world. China is playing an active role in the country’s peace process and is helping to stabilize the situation with humanitarian aid. China’s support to UNHCR in Afghanistan will help us to prepare for emergencies by procuring and distributing around 1,800 tents and more than 3,000 core relief items, which is what we call items like kitchen utensils, water containers and buckets, tarpaulin, blankets and cooking gas. While simple, these supplies are critical to help people who have fled with only the clothes on their backs to survive in the initial weeks and months in displacement.

Having these items stockpiled in advance helps us act fast to deliver life-saving assistance when there is an emergency. The new South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund support will also provide over 25,000 backpacks to schoolchildren in areas where Afghan families are returning and reintegrating into their communities. Overall the project is expected to help more than 60,000 refugees, IDPs, returnees and members of host communities. eliminated extreme poverty at the end of 2020. Poverty eradication is an important goal of the UN's 2030 Agenda. As a professional working in humanitarian assistance and development for many years, how do you evaluate China's poverty reduction work?

Sivanka Dhanapala:We all know that China’s remarkable achievement on poverty reduction has made a substantial contribution to reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The country’s experience could encourage, empower and provide valuable experience to other developing countries on their way toward sustainable development.

China is also helping people in other developing countries, including people forced to flee, through the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund. In the past five years, the Chinese government has provided assistance through UNHCR for projects in Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe to support shelter, water, healthcare and education activities and to distribute food, relief supplies and winterization kits to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in these countries. was a special year for the world. The globe is facing a disastrous pandemic, and the vulnerable are hardest hit. What impact does COVID-19 bring to refugees and how does UNHCR respond nationally and globally?

Sivanka Dhanapala:Globally 134 countries hosting refugees have reported cases of COVID-19.In addition to the public health risks and socio-economic impact, the pandemic is inducing an unprecedented protection crisis for refugees, IDPs and stateless people.From restricted access to asylum, to spiraling gender-based violence, worsening poverty, premature returns, rising xenophobia, health risks and more – the consequences of the pandemic are threatening the rights, safety and lives of millions of refugees, IDPs and stateless people.

Despite the challenges, UNHCR is staying and delivering for refugees around the world amid the pandemic even in the most remote and difficult places. We have procured some US$120 million worth of PPE and medical items, including some from China. Around 8,000 refugee housing units have been distributed in 15 countries to facilitate quarantine, physical distancing and other COVID-19 measures. Through UNHCR’s field operations and partners, nearly 4 million people of concern have accessed health services, including mental health and psychosocial support. Nearly half a million women and girls have accessed sexual and reproductive health services. Over 3 million people have received cash, helping them to meet basic needs flexibly and with dignity.

Through it all, we have found that the Global Compact on Refugees is a vision and a roadmap to meet these challenges.Inclusion is key to protecting refugees, IDPs, stateless people and their host communities. To protect refugees, IDPs, stateless people and their local communities, they must be included, in all their diversity, in all national responses to the pandemic, on an equal footing as citizens. Safeguarding their health also protects the health of their host communities and societies. This morning UNHCR shared the inspiring news that Jordan has become one of the world’s first countries to start COVID-19 vaccinations for refugees. Anyone living in Jordan, including refugees and asylum seekers, is entitled to receive the vaccine for free. We hope all countries follow suit to include refugees in their vaccination programs on par with nationals and in line with COVAX principles.

In China, we have worked closely with our government partners to support refugees during the pandemic: assessing their needs and ensuring equitable access to health services and other basic necessities. Our work with media to call attention to discrimination against anyone – especially vulnerable groups such as refugees – has also been important in combating stigma. UNHCR was the first UN agency in China to release a statement, advocating for anti-discrimination in China after the outbreak of COVID-19.

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